Mahi Swims Into the Metro Core
Combining optical switching and transport functions along with metro Ethernet and Sonet add/drop multiplexer (ADM) capabilities, the box carriers 320 Gbit/s of capacity and has been designed to consolidate several pieces of equipment that carry out those functions in telecom central offices today. Mahi officials say it will aggregate, groom, and switch access traffic from ADMs sitting on metro rings, as well as provide broadband crossconnect and Ethernet capabilities.
Today, carriers use a variety of Sonet ADMs -- primarily from market leaders such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. (FNC), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) -- to aggregate and groom traffic. They also use broadband digital crossconnects from companies like Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) to switch the traffic.
Along with reducing the number of boxes interconnecting the central office, one of the Mi7’s first target applications is automating the provisioning of new circuits. Today, carriers must physically cut new fiber and manually plug it into the appropriate port in order to provision a new circuit. Mahi CEO Chris Rust claims the Mi7 can save carriers up to 50 percent on capital costs, while also saving them a considerable amount on the operational side.
The Mi7 will also employ standards and interoperability to battle the incumbents. The box works with multiple vendors, according to Rust. Mahi is actually demonstrating interoperability with gear from Cisco, Lucent, Fujitsu Ltd. (KLS: FUJI.KL), Turin Networks Inc., and White Rock Networks at OFC this week. It is also a strong supporter of standards such as GMPLS (General Multiprotocol Label Switching).
Mahi has an OEM agreement with White Rock and uses the technology to provide a low-cost, highly dense DS3 extension to the Mi7. This extension, called the Dx7, provides DS3 electrical connections to legacy access networks.
The company has already completed the rigorous and expensive Telcordia Technologies Inc. Osmine certification process, a requirement for almost any equipment supplier addressing the regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs).
Mahi officials say the company has 10 boxes deployed in trials with two RBOCs and three interexchange carriers. And, although he wouldn’t name names, he says the company is close to signing a deal with one of these customers, which has already certified the box for use in its network.
While Mahi seems to be making progress, the road for startup equipment suppliers is not easy. The company must battle competition from companies with much more cash and existing relationships with many of these carriers.
“They are addressing the bread and butter of incumbent equipment providers in the interoffice transport and switching market,” says Michael Kennedy, managing partner at Network Strategy Partners LLC. “From an architectural and engineering standpoint the product looks very good. But they are taking on the big boys on their own turf, and that’s no easy task.”
There is no doubt that such a metro-core switching product is at the top of the list for many larger vendors. Cisco, for example, has recently introduced the ONS 15600, a product similar to the Mi7 (see Cisco Launches Metro Switch). Lucent’s Lambda Unite also competes in this market, as does the Tellabs 6500. And Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN) has been trying to make progress in the space as well.
The Mi7 is also making a bet on Ethernet, enabling carriers to take in multiple Ethernet connections and map them onto a single circuit. This differs from other vendors that map Ethernet on a one-to-one basis.
“Their success will be tied to the success of metro Ethernet,” says Kennedy. “A lot of the existing gear treats Ethernet very inefficiently. Mahi is more comprehensive in its approach.”
Ten months ago, Rust left his job as a partner at Sequoia Capital, one of Mahi’s original investors, to become CEO of Mahi. He says he wasn’t sure if the company would even survive. On May 15, 2002, Mahi was actually on the verge of running out of money.
“I had to stand up and tell the staff that I didn’t know when or if I was going to pay them,” he says.
But after a $75 million eleventh-hour save by a syndicate of investors including St. Paul Venture Capital and Jerusalem Venture Partners, Mahi survived and continued to put the final touches on the Mi7 (see Mahi Gets a Fresh $75M). Now the box is in a series of field trials, and Rust expects revenues to start coming in this quarter.
Rust says he had the vision for the Mi7 back in the late 1990s while he was working as a consultant for U.S. West.
“Since the first napkin drawings of the product, we have always intended to go after the embedded base of equipment,” he says.
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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