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Ex-Silkroad Employees Form Switch Startup

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
9/28/2000

A new company has emerged from the ruins of the former Silkroad Inc.

Called Telena Communications, it's developing an optical switch, and it doesn't plan to use any of the radical optical transmission technologies that SilkRoad promised but never delivered.

According to Calvin Beydler, CEO and president of Telena, he and several other Telena employees were laid off from Silkroad this past spring, as the company began to collapse. Though Silkroad had performed some impressive tests of its Refractive Synchronization Communication (RSC) optical transceiver technology -- which it claimed could carry terabits of traffic per second over a single strand of fiber in a much simpler (and cheaper) way than current DWDM implementations -- the company disappeared from the radar screen earlier this year, without delivering any products (or leaving a forwarding address).

But instead of drifting off to other companies, several ex-Silkroaders decided to stay together and try their own hand at the startup game, albeit with a much more conservative game plan. Telena's other founder is chief technology officer and EVP Antonio Porras, who was in the engineering department at Silkroad. Four other Silkroad engineers have joined the two founders at Telena, which is located in the San Diego area, Silkroad's previous haunt.

"With Tony's ideas and the expertise among all of us, we thought that we had all the elements to start a company," said Beydler, who had previously spent 20 years at Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN), mostly designing and running large wafer-fabrication facilities. "We all enjoyed working together and decided to stick together, instead of scattering to the winds," Beydler said.

Though Telena is still in the earliest stages of development, Beydler said the company hopes to have more details about product and financing in the next month or so. Beydler was vague about Telena's product focus ("We're doing something in the optical switching systems arena" was as far as he was willing to go), but he said that Telena would "absolutely not" use any of the SilkRoad RSC technologies.

"On the surface, that stuff looked good, but after some time it just didn't look like things were real," said Beydler, who came out of retirement to help build fabrication facilities for SilkRoad, a task he never got to complete. Telena, he said, will be using "proven optical technologies" in its products.

"I'm a little more practical, being from the Midwest," said Beydler. "You have to show me." He observed that Telena is currently surviving on a seed round raised "by myself, as well as from family and friends," but will start looking for initial venture funding as soon as its product plans are solid.

As for Silkroad's former strategic leaders, the world may not have heard the last of them (See Silkroad Twists and Turns ). They are rumored to be trying to bring the RSC technology to market under another corporate structure. However, the entity once known as Silkroad appears to be completely gone from this world, with its Website and phones disconnected.

Though Beydler said he "couldn't put my finger on one thing" that caused Silkroad to collapse, he did attribute most of the blame to the company's top executives and its R&D department, which he said never came up with products to build.

"Things just weren't getting done," said Beydler, who claims to have been "low on the totem pole" in the Silkroad executive lineup. "Nobody [in management] seemed to be very focused."

-- Paul Kapustka, Silicon Valley bureau chief, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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