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Optical/IP

Polaris Lifts Off

Telecom gear startup Polaris Networks officially unveiled its OMX Optical Transport Switch on Monday, about 15 months after first talking up its technology (see Polaris Announces Metro Switch). It will demonstrate the product at NFOEC next week.

The company is aiming at the multiservice market, though it will do so in a series of steps. It wants to compete with entrenched crossconnect products such as the Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) Titan 5500 system and Alcatel SA's (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) 1631 LMC system. The first release of OMX supports Sonet services, such as DS1 and DS3 connections, with the ability to migrate to full multiservice capabilities, including support for a variety of Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and Internet Protocol (IP) services.

The OMX aims to one-up the old crossconnects, doing their jobs in a smaller space while adding the functionality of several Sonet add/drop multiplexers (ADMs). Its capacity starts at 240 Gbit/s and scales to 2 Tbit/s, and it handles circuits in VT1.5 (1.7 Mbit/s) increments versus core switches that only handle STS1 (51.84 Mbit/s) chunks. The product's interfaces will include DS3, OC3 to OC192, and Gigabit Ethernet, the company says.

"[When] positioned against the Tellabs and Alcatel DCS products, the Polaris OMX has the added benefit of being an ADM, so it will enable a significant reduction in the number of ADMs needed in a carrier's central office," says Maria Zeppetella, VP of network infrastructure at Probe Research Inc.

Indeed, cramming more functions into one box may, like corduroy, yet come back in fashion. With the amount of carrier consolidation happening these days, large carriers might be more prone to buying a dense metro box that can replace several standalone products, according to Scott Clavenna, president of PointEast Research LLC.

"Polaris will have to demonstrate radical cost and performance over competitors," Clavenna says. That'll be tough, but not impossible, given that many carriers need to scale their digital crossconnects because of increasing private line traffic, he says.

Polaris is indeed flogging its small size and density versus its competitors. In press briefings, the company claims its product would only take up one half of a telco rack at a cost of $1.6 million to provide 1,024 fully redundant STS1 ports. Polaris claims the Titan 5500 would require 27 racks of gear at a list price of $6.7 million to match that configuration. It says Alcatel's solution would require 29 racks of gear at $6.3 million.

Tellabs dismissed Polaris's comparison, saying its numbers were off "by an order of magnitude." "There is no configuration that we have ever sold that would be all OC12s -- that doesn't even make sense," says Greg Nulty, VP of product line management at Tellabs. Besides, with more than 4,000 systems installed, Nulty says "the likelihood that someone would replace a 5500 with something new is remote."

Alcatel confirms that its solution would require 29 racks of gear to match the configuration presented, but wouldn't confirm a price. "Startups such as Polaris are obviously compelled to make extravagant claims about their new products to get attention in the market," adds Jamie Horton, an Alcatel spokeswoman.

Of course, winning on paper will only get you so far. "They also have to demonstrate performance of the switch and financial viability of the company," Clavenna says. "[Polaris] may need a partner or original equipment manufacturer to get into big [carrier] accounts."

By putting Tellabs and Alcatel in its crosshairs, Polaris has actually narrowed its competitive field. When the company first announced its product architecture, it looked as though it was going up against everything from Sonet add/drop multiplexers and MSPPs or "God boxes" to the large core switches at the edge of long-haul networks (see Polaris Builds a God Box).

Startup Ocular Networks, which Tellabs bought last year, took on the Titan 5500 at one time (see Ocular Takes On Tellabs). However, once acquired, the Ocular box became complementary, and it is now marketed as a Titan 5500 Mini-Me for Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers. Interestingly, Polaris says it is going head-to-head with the Ocular box (now the Tellabs 6400) in at least one carrier account, proving that despite its own marketing messages, Polaris will try to win business on either side of the metro core.

Polaris was founded in June 2000 and has raised $77 million to date without a down round, according to Cheryl Gray, Polaris's senior marketing manager. The company employs about 99 people, most of whom are engineers.

Several of its directors, including Ray Kao, the CEO and chief technology officer, were previously associated with Stratacom, the ATM switch company that Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) bought in 1996. In contrast, a couple of Polaris's operating staff hail from Tachion Networks, a brash MSPP vendor that added too many functions in one box, failed to land a large customer, and went out of business (see Tachion Trolls for Cash).

Polaris has trials underway with one RBOC, one IXC, and two next-generation carriers, according to Sab Gosal, Polaris's director of product marketing. Three of the four carriers are using the box as a wideband transport platform, and one may be looking at it as a long-haul switch, he says.

Will carriers put money where Polaris's mouth is? Maybe, but not for a few months. If all goes well in its trials, Polaris could see initial product revenues by the second quarter of next year, Gosal says.

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
www.lightreading.com
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opticaltalent 12/4/2012 | 9:48:05 PM
re: Polaris Lifts Off
Polaris has raised $77M ($50 of which came in March of this year), has less than 100 people, a product the carriers need, people who have had been successful at startups before, and are engaged at an IXC and RBOC. They look as promising as any start up I have seen.

Their solution looks good and more importantly it is something the carriers NEED to buy.
wilecoyote 12/4/2012 | 9:48:04 PM
re: Polaris Lifts Off So I'm excited about this company as I've mentioned before. I'm hoping they win some business on this $77M so we shut Mr. Volpi up. Still pissed off at that stupid article.

FYI, everyone is "engaged" in IXCs and RBOCs. I mean, everyone. Otherwise, you'll get your funding pulled and the VCs will shut down the company. Engaged with IXC and RBOC means nothing at all. When you collect a PO for a box going into a live network to pass live traffic, that means something. It's premature to call the game on this company and this article doesn't really say anything substantive, but the words are encouraging.

Go Polaris!
WC
light_geeking 12/4/2012 | 9:48:02 PM
re: Polaris Lifts Off The lr article quotes " ...trials underway with one RBOC, one IXC, and two next-generation carriers".

I saw no mention of OSMINE certification anywhere, which is essential for RBOC deployment. So I guess, Polaris marketing propaganda machine is working overtime :-)

BTW, I heard lately that Polaris box suffers from heat problems. That is impacting their density claims severely. Anyone know more about that?

Thanks for any info.
LG
Elvis Doesn't Live 12/4/2012 | 9:48:00 PM
re: Polaris Lifts Off
This company will only sell into an RBOC if they have a partner like Lucent, NT or Tellabs. Large companies will not invest their network dollars in small companies. Period. They can make things uncomfortable for the big guys and force a potential partnership as acquisition is not an option today.

Unfortunately, I think that this a lot of wishfull thinking. (Yo Clavenna, stop listening to vendors....I don't care how much they pay you)
ahardie 12/4/2012 | 9:47:59 PM
re: Polaris Lifts Off Either that or your the proud owner of on bad business plan...
sir-wish-pro-wide-her 12/4/2012 | 9:47:59 PM
re: Polaris Lifts Off I have heard that Polaris is trying to quote their gear below cost, so that it can get into lab trials with some carrier.
I have also heard that their next installment of funds is being gated by getting a customer to sign up for a lab trial and more, and hence the need to go below cost.


Iipoed 12/4/2012 | 9:47:59 PM
re: Polaris Lifts Off At least they have products to lab trial. More power to them even if they have to give it away at first. It shows they must believe in their technology
Elvis Doesn't Live 12/4/2012 | 9:47:57 PM
re: Polaris Lifts Off If you believe in it so much why do you have to give it away? If they are giving the gear away then they are cuttng their own throats and not to mention hurting the industry. SPs know that they can get these guys to bend over.

ritefiber 12/4/2012 | 9:47:57 PM
re: Polaris Lifts Off Given the doom and gloom in the market and the misery being expressed by system vendors, its refeshing to hear some positive news - especially from a start up in this climate!

Kudos to Polaris! Hope you make it.
light_geeking 12/4/2012 | 9:47:55 PM
re: Polaris Lifts Off Hey sir-wish-pro-wide-her, I guess, I see your point. Looks like bad news for all three different stakeholder camps in Polaris.
Polaris employees are going to get screwed as selling below cost is never a sustainable business model.
Service Providers are going to get screwed, if they deploy Polaris gear, as a startup cannot continue to exist, if they sell below cost.
And finally, the VCs in Polaris are going to get screwed, as the only exit strategy in today's market is to get acquired. No one likes to acquire a company that is competing on price and is making a loss.
Also the big danger is that by quoting their gear below cost, the customer expectation will be set, where they cannot then raise the prices in future, that is, if Polaris gets saved by the bell, and is still existing ;-), further driving the nail in the coffin of their acquisition chance if any.
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