Optical/IP Networks

LightPointe Wins Qwest Contract

The first example of a major carrier deploying free space optics as an alternative to fiber is being claimed by LightPointe Communications Inc. .

LightPointe says that it’s signed a contract with Qwest Communications International Corp. (NYSE: Q) under which the carrier will use Flight, Lightpointe’s free space optical product, where it’s unable to deploy fiber to connect its customers.

No press release has been issued, and terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed, but the product has been certified for Qwest’s worldwide network and is currently being deployed in North America, according to John Griffin, LightPointe’s CEO.

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW), among others (see Cisco, Corning Invest in LightPointe).

LightPointe was founded in 1998 and has been selling wireless optical gear mostly to enterprise customers and some small service providers. The company has installed gear in 23 countries, operating at speeds of 20 Mbit/s up to 1.25 Gbit/s at distances up to 2.5 miles at wavelengths of 850 nm.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty hanging out there about this technology,” says Griffin. “And I think that investment from Cisco and Corning along with this deal are good indicators that it’s ready for the mainstream carrier market.”

Free space optics is not without its problems although LightPointe says it's addressed a big potential snag - interruptions caused by fog (see Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics). Griffin says that Qwest tested the LightPointe gear extensively, and in its deployments it has not adjusted its service level agreements. In other words, it's holding the technology up to the same reliability standards as its fiber based services.

But even Griffin admits that free space optics won’t replace fiber. “From our perspective it is a sign that carriers can think of the technology as part of their tool kit to hook up customers,” he says. “We’re not saying that it will replace fiber; it won’t. It’s just another arrow in the quiver.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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