Clouds Lift on Tunable Lasers
The deal is more significant than it might first appear because there's a real prospect of Lightscape selling serious quantities of Agility's transmitters -- a nice change from the stories of doom and gloom that have surrounded the tunable laser market of late (see Tough Times for Tunable Lasers and ADC Tunes Out).
Landing Lightscape as a customer gives tunable lasers in general and Agility in particular a big boost, because Lightscape is doing surprising well right now. The subsidiary of Israel's ECI Telecom Ltd. (Nasdaq/NM: ECIL) has sold no fewer than 1,500 of its XDM combined Sonet and DWDM boxes, according to Ido Gur, its VP of marketing. As a result, there's plenty of scope for Agility's tunable transmitters to be sold to existing customers, in addition to being incorporated in new equipment.
In other words, today's announcement has little in common with the one that Agility and Network Photonics Inc. made 18 months ago (see Agility Partners With Network Photonics). That turned out to be little more than lab trials, which ended up going nowhere (see Network Photonics Scales Back).
Right now, the size of Agility's contract with Lightscape is tough to measure because it'll only make sense to use tunable rather than fixed wavelength transmitters in certain cases -- when at least 10 DWDM channels are lit, according to Gur. Gur says this equates to a "very significant" proportion of customers using Lightscape's XDM product for metro core applications. In general, fewer wavelengths are used for access applications.
Note that Agility is actually supplying a tunable transmitter, which comprises three devices in one -- a tunable laser, a semiconductor optical amplifier, and a modulator (see Agility Packs Three Into One). The whole thing can drive a 2.5-Gbit/s signal for up to 200 kilometers, according to Arlon Martin, Agility's VP of marketing. Shipments to Lightscape's customers will start in the fourth quarter, says Gur.
Agility's module is interchangeable with fixed wavelength lasers complying with a multisource agreement (MSA) known as LEMSA, which stands for Lucent (which became Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR)), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERICY), Mitsubishi Electric & Electronics USA Inc., Sumitomo Corp., and Alcatel Optronics (Nasdaq: ALAO; Paris: CGO.PA) -- the five vendors that set up the MSA in the first place.
Agility's transmitter costs "between one and two times" the cost of a fixed-wavelength module, according to Gur, who declines to be any more specific. The savings from using the tunable module come from not having to carry a spare for every wavelength. In a system with a large number of wavelengths, this can add up to significant savings, not just in having fewer spares but in occupying less space.
Lightscape is making a big thing out of being the first to offer tunable transmitters with its equipment -- they'll be in action on its booth at the upcoming NFOEC tradeshow in Dallas. But other vendors are following in Lightscape's footsteps, according to Agility's Martin. Agility has similar contracts with two other vendors who are "as big as, if not bigger than, Lightscape," he says.
And Agility may not be the only tunable laser startup touting a contract with a big vendor. Iolon Inc. is close to announcing a milestone contract, according to sources close to the company. Expect some news in the coming week.
— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading