Optical/IP Networks

Tropic Touts Tracking Approach

Tropic Networks Inc. says it's developed a unique way to track wavelengths through an optical network, eliminating costs. The question is, How unique is it?

Tropic plans to demonstrate the Wavelength Tracker, a feature of the TRX-24000T metro optical transport platform it announced in May (see Tropic Re-Emerges), at the upcoming NFOEC trade show in Dallas (see Tropic Demos Wavelength Tracker). The technique and the box are both set for general availability September 30.

Tropic's among a small but increasingly competitive number of vendors aiming for the metro DWDM transport space. These vendors claim to consolidate key features of Sonet and DWDM gear, while eliminating costly amplification and optical-to-electrical-to-optical (OEO) conversions.

Tropic, for example, says its wavelength management technology enables vendors to save the costs associated with lugging high-end test equipment to central offices in search of network problems. Instead, Tropic packs its own built-in optical analyzer.

It works like this: Tropic takes Sonet traffic from large-scale aggregation boxes, such as the ONS 15454 from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), or any other vendor's equipment that exports ITU-grid DWDM signals.

As the signals enter Tropic's box, an optical identifier is attached to each channel, enabling that wavelength to be identified anywhere it turns up in the network. The identifier enables Tropic to monitor power consumption and connectivity associated with specific wavelengths and the network cards that support those wavelengths in the vendor's equipment.

Tropic says that no transponders are required for use of its wavelength monitoring technology.

Tropic is claiming its technology is unique, but it's facing a slew of competitors. The roster of metro platform suppliers includes newer companies such as Atrica Inc. and Luminous Networks Inc. that have a packet-centric approach to optical edge systems, The competition also includes Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) and Riverstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RSTN), as well as next-generation Sonet vendors such as Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA).

At least one of Tropic's competitors makes similar claims about optical monitoring. Atrica says it too can track individual wavelengths through the network. How to tell the difference?

One possible metric is distance. In Atrica's case, signals can be monitored at a distances up to 300 kilometers. Tropic's claiming to monitor at distances up to 600km. The vendor says it's got about 20 patents on the technique.

But distance isn't everything. Experts say today's metro solutions must fit a roster of carrier requirements. Indeed, there are those who claim that circuit-switched solutions, instead of packet-oriented ones like Tropic's, may be a more practical solution for some carriers in the near term.

However, Tropic has its eye on making the grade in the long term. It is working with Telcordia Technologies Inc. on having its particular set of optical wavelength metrics adopted in network management specs used by that company's carrier databases.

Tropic's also got customers using Wavelength Tracker, it says, including a leading incumbent carrier and a CLEC, both in the U.S.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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