ROADM Vendors Perk Up
Money is back, too, as startup Polychromix Inc. announced an $8 million funding round earlier this week. This second round is intended to take the company into volume manufacturing (see Polychromix Raises $8M).
Other ROADM startups also say the market is picking up. Next week, Lynx Photonic Networks, will announce several new OEM partners, including two large distributors in Asia, South Korea-based 4urnet and Taiwan-based BBN. Lynx founder and CEO Daniel Tal says activity from carriers is building.
The ROADM adds the promise of flexibility to Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) networks, allowing operators to remotely change the way wavelengths are taken in and out of a particular optical switching node. Older OADMs can't do this without being manually reconfigured, requiring the dreaded "truck roll." ROADMs can thus reduce operating expenses for networks.
More than 20 vendors, including Polychromix and Lynx, are developing the key components and subsystems for ROADMs. Many of the players are startups still hoping to get their first big sale, but the field also includes such big names as JDS Uniphase Corp. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU) and Avanex Corp. (Nasdaq: AVNX).
The good news is that the business is finally arriving, something vendors had anticipated late last year (see ROADMs Could Boost Components). AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T), MCI (Nasdaq: WCOEQ, MCWEQ), SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) have all put out RFPs specifying ROADM technology, and analysts expect cable operators to start building with ROADMs as well (see Siemens Has Hopes at AT&T and MCI's on a New Wavelength).
"If you look at the RFQs [requests for quotes] today -- not just the 'fishing' RFQs -- they're all demanding reconfigurable OADMS," says Mouli Ramani, vice president of marketing and business development at Polychromix.
Other executives concur. "We're seeing a nice pickup in the need for wavelength services and optical protections," says Tal.
Tal says Lynx has raised more than $60M and still has much of it left, as the company never had more than 100 employees and now has 60. "We could last until 2007... if we all went on vacation," he says.
Nice work if you can get it, but Tal said he has no such plans for a vacation. He says the company's line of optical switches, called LightLeader, allow for "plug and play" reconfigurability. These reconfigurable subsystems can be installed to upgrade static optical switches to an ROADM.
So, the players in the ROADM market have a story. The downside is that ROADMs aren't yet needed in huge numbers.
"The long-haul ROADM market is happening now. But requirements for ROADMs in a long-haul network are not huge, with maybe 50 to 150 points in a national backbone where they are necessary right away," says Scott Clavenna, analyst with Heavy Reading, the independent research division of Light Reading Inc. "For metro, which should kick in [at the] end of this year or next year, volumes are higher, but still limited."
The ROADM craze started during the bubble but got stalled by the recession, leaving startups holding their breath waiting for recovery. Naturally, some couldn't outlast the drought. Systems vendor Innovance Networks shut down, becoming one of Light Reading's 2003 Top Ten: Startup Flameouts, and Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW) axed its Fountain Valley operation. The latest casualty appears to be components firm Clarendon Photonics Inc. (See Headcount: Company Makeover, Corning Chops Wavelength Blocker, and Headcount: FCC Eyes Action Jackson.)
While not revealing any customers, Polychromix claims to be gaining traction. "We have a few Tier 1 system houses that are in the near term going to be working with our wavelength blockers in their equipment," Ramani says. Production versions of that equipment should be appearing in the second half of the year, he says.
Polychromix's components use micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology, an approach also employed by LightConnect Inc., NP Photonics Inc., Silicon Light Machines, and others. Other technologies being applied to ROADMs include thin-film filters, liquid crystals, and micro-ring resonators. Light Reading plans to summarize these efforts in an upcoming "Who Makes What" report.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, and R. Scott Raynovich, US Editor, Light Reading