Optical/IP Networks

T-Networks Modulates to 40 Gbit/s

T-Networks Inc., a startup claiming to have a unique approach to OC192 (10 Gbit/s) and OC768 (40 Gbit/s) components, emerged from stealth mode today (see T-Network Enters Modulator Market).

However, at this stage it's hard to ascertain what factors make its approach unique, since the company isn't revealing much detail about its products.

In a nutshell, T-Networks is planning to make high-speed optical components out of indium phosphide. It's first products are 10 and 40 Gbit/s optical modulators, which started sampling over a year ago, and are expected to ship in volume by the end of Q2 2002, according to Bill Atkins, the company's VP of marketing. Modulators are a key element in optical networks used to chop up a laser signal into a series of pulses.

T-Networks also makes a 40 Gbit/s photodiode that's been sampling to customers for about a year. After this, it plans to make components with higher levels of integration, although it isn't saying exactly what.

So, could T-Networks be unique?

Certainly, it has a high-profile executive team that -- unusually for a components company -- includes a large systems group, headed by Xiang-Dong Cao, a founder and former chief scientist of Qtera, a company acquired by Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) for $3.25 billion (see Nortel Completes Acquisition of Qtera ). Atkins says that the systems team helps the company identify and develop products that customers really need.

The company also has $41.5 million in funding from some top-drawer VCs, suggesting there might be something concrete beneath all its marketing bluster. The investors include Greylock, Sequoia Capital, U.S. Venture Partners, and Milton Chang's incubator, Incubic LLC.

Chang sits on the board of directors, along with David Welch, former CTO of SDL -- which was recently acquired by JDS Uniphase Inc. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU) -- and Lou Tomasetta, CEO of Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS). Tomasetta has invested in the company as an individual; Vitesse has also invested, as has Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC).

When you peel back the layers, however, the company starts to resemble several other well known startups that are promoting indium phosphide modulators as a cheaper alternative to lithium niobate, such as CyOptics Inc. and Qusion Technologies Inc. Other companies making standalone indium phosphide modulators include Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR), Alcatel Optronics (Nasdaq: ALAO; Paris: CGO.PA), and Oki Semiconductor.

Hava Volterra, VP of marketing and business development at CyOptics, greets T-Networks' announcement with a "Show us what it can do" message. It's not enough to boast about improvements in cost, space, and power, she says, without giving real numbers such as bandwidth, board area, power consumption, and so on (see CyOptics Claims Modulator Milestone).

For example, CyOptics most recent innovation appears to be a "zero insertion loss" modulator, which integrates a gain function in the module (see CyOptics Unveils InP Modulator). This tackles the problem that indium-phosphide-based modulators -- also called electro-absorption modulators (EAMs) -- tend to have rather higher insertion loss than lithium niobate ones. And in Qusion's case, it has developed a modulator with a wider range of operating wavelengths than standard EAMs (see Qusion Touts Wideband Modulator).

When pressed, T-Networks claimed that its modulator can also have zero insertion loss, acknowledging that there is gain integrated in the module. However, Atkins refuses to make comparisons with CyOptics, saying there's no evidence it is targeting the same applications. "We believe our competitors are the lithium niobate companies," he says.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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