Optical/IP Networks

Maple Gets $50M for MPLS Box

Startup Maple Optical Systems, formerly Maple Networks, announced today that it has closed more than $50 million in its series B round of financing by venture capitalists and international communications companies.

Texas Pacific Group, a private investment partnership with capital in excess of $7 billion, led the round, bringing the total raised by Maple to more than $60 million. Venture capitalists investing in this round are Amerindo Investment Advisors, Aurora Technology Fund, McQuillan Ventures, and Technology Crossover Ventures. Siemens AG (Frankfurt: SIE) also participated in this round, as well as Raza Foundries, which initially invested $9 million in Maple Optical Systems.

Founded in January 2000 by former executives and technology experts from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HWP), the company has grown from four to more than 120 employees since February, when the company closed its first round of funding.

The company has remained very secretive about its product plans, but the vendor has revealed some basic information about the product, which it is calling a "multi-service optical system". The vendor claims the box will enable carriers to provision, scale, and manage bandwidth over wavelengths more efficiently and cost effectively.

How? For one, it will put IP and other types of traffic directly over fiber, completely eliminating Sonet and ATM transport layers from the network. This collapse of functionality on the network will make expensive Sonet add-drop multiplexers and ATM switches unnecessary, greatly reducing capital and maintenance costs, says the vendor.

Because various layers of complexity will be eliminated, revenue generating services like IP virtual private networks and voice over IP can be deployed and provisioned much more quickly and easily than current implementations that require several different types of equipment in different areas of the network to be provisioned separately.

Central to this concept is the emerging multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) standard, which Maple says will provide the unifying signaling protocol from the edge to the core of the network.

"It's a pretty interesting concept," says Scott Clavenna president of PointEast Research and director of research at Light Reading. "It makes sense. MPLS is supposed to do what ATM tried to do but failed to do because it wouldn't scale and was too expensive."

Maple Optical isn't the only vendor looking to use MPLS to simplify transport, Tenor Networks Inc. has also been working on this concept. And Tenor, which also recently announced additional funding, is at least eight to nine months ahead of Maple or any other competitor in this area, according to Clavenna (see Tenor Builds A Network Toll Booth ).

"Tenor has been out there alone for awhile talking about MPLS," says Clavenna. "And this really seems to validate what they've been saying all along."

With $60 million in the bank, Maple should be able to get through its product development. The vendor wouldn't comment specifically on when products will be available for beta testing, but said the company could announce something within the next six months.

-- Marguerite Reardon, senior editor, Light Reading, http://www.lightreading.com

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