Optical/IP Networks

Edgeflow Becomes Meriton

Ottawa startup Edgeflow Inc. announced a name change to Meriton Networks Inc. today and released news of two key alliances in an effort to clarify its strategy (see Edgeflow Becomes Meriton and ExceLight Partners With Meriton). In doing so, it's given more details than ever about its nascent product and its own competitive ambitions in a key area of market growth.

Spokespeople say the new name emphasizes a goal of creating MERIT in Optical Networking. Get it? It's also designed to set the record straight. "The [Edgeflow] name led many to think we were developing an optical edge system, and that... is not the case," says CEO Wes Biggs in a prepared statement. Instead, the startup aims to create an optical add/drop multiplexer (OADM) for use between central offices in metropolitan backbone networks -- the so-called metro core.

"We're involved in moving wavelengths," says Michael Gassewitz, Meriton's COO. He says Meriton's switches will be designed to work with, not replace, edge gear such as the CoreDirector from Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), as well as ATM switches, gigabit Ethernet gear, and routers from a range of vendors.

Meriton's new name may help solidify its market ambitions, but the company hasn't done a bad job of communicating its goals so far -- at least to its backers. It's gotten US$24 million in funding since its founding in April 2000, the most recent round bringing $18 million in September 2001 (see Edgeflow Scores $18M). The company is negotiating trial runs with three carriers, set to take place during the first quarter 2002. (Officials aren't giving out any names as yet.)

Then there are the component deals, terms undisclosed, with Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) and ExceLight Communications. Vitesse will provide Meriton with a range of chips created for use in electrically based OADMs, including switch fabrics, laser drivers, and clock data recovery (CDR) chips. Excelight brings coarse wavelength-division multiplexing (CWDM) modules.

Spokespeople say both announcements are aimed at showing that Meriton's serious about ramping up production and has enlisted key suppliers. They're not meant to telegraph the specific limits of Meriton's switch, which will be offered in two versions, a 128-by-128 lambda switch upgradeable to a 512-by-512 model.

The chips listed in the Vitesse announcement, for instance, are geared to OC48 (2.5 Gbit/s). Meriton acknowledges that its gear will support 2.7 Gbit/s in the first release, but it will be followed "very soon after" with 10-Gbit/s support. "We won't even wait for a follow-on release," a spokesperson says. Also, use of CWDM gear doesn't mean DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing) won't be supported too. "We will have a separate agreement for DWDM components," says Gassewitz.

The news begs comparisons between Meriton and Movaz Networks Inc., another startup targeting optical switching, which had news of its own this week (see Movaz Moves Up).

But there are key differences between the two startups -- differences that focus on network management. Indeed, Meriton is clearly staking its future on its own scheme for tracking specific network links and adjusting them to fit specific wavelengths automatically.

Unlike Movaz, Meriton won't focus chiefly on GMPLS (generalized multiprotocol label switching) to get this job done. "Quite frankly, we found the take-up rate from prospective customers wasn't there," says Gassewitz. While Gassewitz feels GMPLS is the "right way to go," he says carriers aren't willing to stake their networks on it just yet. "MPLS has to prove itself in other domains before being included in the transport space."

Meriton's also not bullish about getting its software approved through the Osmine process of Telcordia Technologies Inc.. While conceding it's taken steps to do this, Meriton doesn't tout the process as technologically important to its management strategy, as Movaz does.

And Meriton won't be using tunable lasers as quickly as Movaz hopes to do (see Movaz, Bandwidth9 In Tune). "Tunable lasers are just too expensive right now," Gassewitz complains. "We'll used fixed lasers for the first release for price reasons."

In many ways, Meriton and Movaz are diametrically opposed in their approaches to marketing. Still, they have something in common. Both are intent on staking a claim in the emerging market for optical metro transport, a market analysts say is set to grow faster than other areas of optical networking.

"The industry is still debating about the network edge," says Christopher Nicoll, director of Current Analysis. Carriers aren't clear about whether their focus should be on gigabit Ethernet, TDM, or Sonet, he says. But they are clear about the need for support of wavelength switching in the metro backbone. And this is reflected in the sizeable funding companies like Meriton and Movaz are able to generate even in today's clmate.

But funding doesn't guarantee success. And in the race for the metro optical transport market, only time will tell who survives.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com Michael Gassewitz will be speaking at Lightspeed Europe, Light Reading’s annual conference, being held in London, December 4-6, 2001. Check it out at Lightspeed Europe 2001.

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