Why Cisco Loves Lightchip
But it may be sitting on an even bigger story, Light Reading has learned. Reliable sources close to both companies say that Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is re-selling Lightchip's optical management products as an option for its ONS 15000 series, which includes the 15454, Cisco's massively successful Sonet add-drop multiplexer (the "Cerent" box).
That's a huge deal, if true. Cisco's Cerent product has been installed in a phenomenal number of carrier accounts -- giving Lightchip access to a fat channel for its product.
The alleged Cisco deal could explain why, according to Lighchip, it accrued revenues "approaching double digit millions" in its first year in business -- highly unusual for an optical startup. Isadore Katz, its CEO, says Lightchip is "well on the way to being profitable."
The only fly in the ointment appears to be the startup's moniker. "There are thousands of companies with light in their name. And though we do work with light, we don't work with chips," says Katz.
So what does Lightchip do that allowed it to hook Cisco?
In a nutshell, it combines high-performance optics and advanced net management features in a subsystem that allows carriers to monitor the well-being of the network at the optical level, says Katz. The product is provided in a chassis that fits into a standard telco shelf.
Although many carriers see the benefits of managing the network at a wavelength level, very few are actually deploying optical performance monitoring solutions yet, so they still have to roll a truck to pinpoint a fault, Katz says.
"You can't look at optics as a bunch of dumb pipes. You need intelligence built into critical junctions in the network," he says.
He continues: "You need to know if the noise budget is bad, if the amplifier is dead, if there's water dripping into the fiber, or if the insertion loss is way to high." Sonet doesn't give this information. It only tolls the bell at the funeral, when the bit error rate (BER) breaks loose, and by then data -- and revenues -- have already been cremated.
The trouble is that carriers can't afford to put optical performance monitors -- at a typical price of $10,000 apiece -- at every critical junction in the network. Lightchip's answer is to add optical monitoring features to key components that will deployed anyway, like a mux/demux, and enable those components to relay the information back to a network management station. No other vendor offers those capabilities at present, claims Katz. Right now, Lightchip's product lineup, dubbed Versalight, includes two key subsystems: an optical wavelength router (OWR), which is a multiplexer with an extremely low insertion loss, and the optical wavelength manager (OWM), which feeds network information to remote computers.
The OWR is based on a classical diffraction grating and optics, precision placed inside a box. It supports 48 channels on the 100 GHz-spaced ITU grid. The big advantage is the low insertion loss of 4 decibels. For network providers, this means they can send signals further between amplifiers, allowing them to reduce the cost of active components in the network.
Other multiplexing/demultiplexing technologies can't match those numbers, he claims. Arrayed waveguide gratings (AWGs) typically have losses of 8--10 dB, while thin film filters cannot support such high numbers of channels at all.
The OWR also taps off less than 1 per cent of the optical power and uses it to check which wavelengths are present, what the power is, and whether the signals have drifted away from the centre wavelength.
The OWM contains similar optics to the OWR, but has more sophisticated detectors and electronics so it can report on a wider range of parameters, including optical signal-to-noise ratio (OSNR). It also has an on-board computer that distributes this data via a dial-in connection (using Telnet) or the internet using SNMP (simple network management protocol).
Cisco officials could not be reached at press time. Lightchip executives declined to comment on the alleged Cisco deal.
—Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading, http://www.lightreading.com
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