Optical/IP Networks

Lucent Lays on More Lambdas

Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) has moved into high gear on its optical networking product series. This week it released the LambdaXtreme, third of the four optical networking products the company announced last fall (see Lucent Unveils Product Lineup). Lucent says Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) is field-testing LambdaXtreme for use in its network (see Lucent Sells LambdaXtreme to DT).

The news is clear evidence that Lucent, once considered an optical loser, is putting its past behind it and is no longer willing to take a back seat in optical networking. Instead, it's intent on getting back into the fray as quickly as it can.

"With this release, we have three-quarters of our optical networking product line generally available," says spokesperson Wendy Zajack.

The final piece of the series, the LambdaManager, a high-end grooming switch, is due for release in May. (More on that in a minute.) The LambdaXtreme Transport is a DWDM core transport box that's not a switch but is designed to be placed next to a high-end switch, such as Lucent's LambdaUnite, released in January (see Lucent's LambdaUnite Busts Out). It comes in a choice of capacities: A 2.5-Tbit/s configuration supports up to 64 40-Gbit/s links at distances up to 1,000 km; a 1.28-Tbit/s version offers 128 10-Gbit/s links, each with a reach of up to 4,000 km. Yes -- serious capacity.

LambdaXtreme will compete with long-haul gear from Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) and with the transport capabilities of high-end optical switches such as those from Corvis Corp. (Nasdaq: CORV).

Lucent claims LambdaXtreme is simpler to provision and supports longer distances than other core devices. And it says the box supports all channels at full speeds at maximum distances simultaneously, due to a Bell Labs technical innovation. "Many... systems reduce the number of available channels the further they go," Lucent claims in its press release. The device also sports an integral optical add/drop multiplexer (OADM).

All of Lucent's claims need to be tested against the competition in the field. But so far, they have several things going for them. First, to its credit, Lucent's been on time with the rollout of the Lambda series, which started with the existing LambdaRouter AOS and moved through the release of the LambdaUnite and will culminate (at least for now) in availability of the LambdaManager.

Lucent's also apparently got hold of some significant overseas customers. Deutsche Telekom is testing both LambdaUnite and LambdaXtreme. LambdaUnite has also sold to a Chinese carrier, Sichuan Telecom, in what Lucent calls a "multimillion dollar deal" (see Lucent Wins Chinese Contract). The LambdaRouter has scored with Japan Telecom; and Lucent says France Telecom SA is trialing it.

But much remains to be seen. For one thing, the first Lambda product, the LambdaRouter, has been criticized in the past for being large and expensive (see Lucent's LambdaRouter Turns Japanese). For another, it's not clear how well long-haul products are going to sell for the foreseeable future (see No Riches From Optical Switches and Li Spoofs Industry at OFC). Other questions surround the approach customers will take when they actually start spending again: Will carriers opt for a solution that involves multiple boxes from Lucent or Nortel, or start looking at some of the newer end-to-end solutions (possibly more compact ones) from emerging players such as Ceyba Inc. or Innovance Networks? (See Ceyba Goes Ultra-Long and Innovance Scores $55M.)

Lucent's release of the LambdaManager in May might be more significant than the LambdaXtreme release. A larger version of the LambdaUnite grooming switch, the new device is aimed at very large configurations and could be used in conjunction with LambdaUnite to fit different capacity needs, Lucent says. Note: The LambdaUnite itself is not a small switch, supporting as it does up to 320 Gbit/s of capacity. But LambdaManager will be more in the "multiterabit" range, Lucent says.

LambdaManager will be based on chips from Velio Communications Inc. (see Lucent to Use Velio Switch), which also is rumored to be supplying chips to Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR). Indeed, Velio appears to have pulled ahead of PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS) and Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) in components for grooming switches, thanks to what industry sources say is its availability and protection switching support.

Lucent says it made the choice to use the Velio chips to support the larger capacity of LambdaManager. The LambdaUnite is based on Lucent ASICs. The company won't specify the components contained in the LambdaXtreme.

A large grooming switch will put Lucent in direct combat with Ciena's CoreDirector and with the newly released OPTera HDX from Nortel (see Nortel's HDX is Here), as well as an emerging STS1 grooming switch from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO).

How will these new products fare against one another? Where will Lucent be as a result, one year from now? It's going to be an interesting spring.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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