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Xanoptix's Strange Story

An intriguing story may lie behind Xanoptix Inc., a startup that yesterday announced its first product -- a massively parallel transceiver (see Xanoptix Unveils 200 Gbit/s Transceiver).

The story goes that Xanoptix was formed by a venture capital firm that was turned down as a potential investor in TeraConnect, a spinoff of Sanders, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary now owned by BAE Systems (see Lockheed Spins Off Transmitter Startup). Is that clear?

The unidentified VC firm simply wouldn't take no for an answer. Rather than retire gracefully, it hired ten of Sanders' key researchers and set up Xanoptix.

Two independent sources, one of them claiming to have connections with BAE, gave Light Reading this version of events. Jim Norrod, Xanoptix' CEO, declines to comment. But he also declines to identify Xanoptix' investors, which have already pumped $35 million into his company, suggesting that there's something unusual going on. Xanoptix is currently pursuing another round of finance.

Norrod says he doesn't know whether TeraConnect is developing a competing product, as our sources suggest. "I have no idea what TeraConnect is doing, and I don't care," he miffs. "We're too busy developing our own business."

However, Xanoptix' CTO, John Trezza, former head of the electro-optics group at Sanders, says he took his entire team with him when he left there. The implication is that TeraConnect doesn't have the expertise to develop a massively parallel transceiver, so it must be working on something else.

So, what’s all the fuss about?

Xanoptix' new product, the XTM-1, could be used to create low-cost, high-performance campus networks. It’s a module that promises to carry vast amounts of data over bunches of fiber for distances of up to 4 kilometers. Think of it as Very Short Range (VSR) Sonet on steroids (see OIF Sets Short-Range Sonet Standard)

The XTM-1 could form the basis of optional interface cards for high-performance equipment from the likes of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR).

Each XTM-1 unit interfaces to 72 multimode fibers: 36 coming in, 36 going out. That makes 108 active devices in the module. No, our math isn't at fault. There are 36 detectors and 72 lasers -- each laser has a spare, because the low manufacturing yields and laser reliability require it, according to Norrod.

Though that may sound like a black mark against Xanoptix' lasers, it's worth noting that the manufacture of laser arrays is a notoriously low-yield process. Most laser array makers are putting four, or at most 12, vertical cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs) on a chip (see Laser Blazers). With its array of 72 VCSELs, Xanoptix has upped the ante more than a little.

The startup also says it's got a method for making arrays of distributed feedback (DFB) lasers, rather than VCSELs. "DFBs will give us the technology to go further than four kilometers," says Norrod.

— Pauline Rigby, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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optomatic 12/4/2012 | 8:12:00 PM
re: Xanoptix's Strange Story I don't it's necessary to paint the situation as a dichotomy of either total anarchy or complete corporate control. There is a clear difference between individual employees leaving a company because they are personally unfulfilled and a third party enticing an entire group of employees to leave for promises of or actual heavy remuneration. It's easy to side against the corporate titans that have their design team stolen, but how would you feel if it were the other way around? What if the design team were in a startup and a heavy-spending corporation stole the team? Would it still be such a great thing?
MultiMode 12/4/2012 | 7:42:43 PM
re: Xanoptix's Strange Story Please... Do your homework before you weigh in with your commentary. TeraConnect has developed nothing that isn't "open-book technology". Flip chip and the likes that they are utilizing is not IP, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Xanoptix group leaving Sanders and developing their own IP.
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