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Tellium Gets Some CompetitionTellium Gets Some Competition

Startup TeraBurst says its optical switch can outgun Tellium's on several fronts

May 22, 2001

3 Min Read
Tellium Gets Some Competition

Startup TeraBurst Networks Inc. came out of stealth mode today with an announcement of its first two products -- some rather strange-sounding optical switches (see TeraBurst Unveils Core Switch Solutions).

The switches, dubbed the OMS2100 and OMS2200, handle whole wavelengths and have electrical cores. However, they’re totally different from other switches sharing this description -- notably those from Tellium Inc. (Nasdaq: TELM) -- because they switch analog rather than digital electrical signals.

This gives TeraBurst switches some of the characteristics of all-optical switches, like the ones from Corvis Corp. (Nasdaq: CORV).

Specifically, TeraBurst’s boxes occupy far less space than Tellium’s switches, they consume far less power, and they can scale to handle higher speeds -- up to 40 Gbit/s -- without a corresponding decrease in the number of ports, according to Shantanu Mitra, director of product marketing. Tellium hadn’t responded to requests for comments at press time.

TeraBurst calls its technology OMO, for optical millimeter-wave optical, in a deliberate effort to set itself apart from the usual arguments over whether all-optical (OOO) switches are better than electrical core (OEO) ones.

The best way of understanding OMO is to trace some light passing through TeraBurst’s switch. For a kickoff, light coming from a DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing) system has to be separated into individual colors. Then each wavelength is passed through a transceiver to convert it into an electrical signal, which is digital -- a string of 0s and 1s. This is then converted into an analog electrical signal -- one where the voltage rises and falls smoothly over time -- before being shunted into the switching fabric.

The switching fabric itself is passive. In other words, it stays the same all the time. It comprises a whole lot of intersecting electrical circuits, corresponding to the number of ports on the switch. The electrical current passing along a circuit is pulled into the appropriate intersecting circuit by changing impedances. Like water, the electricity follows the path of least resistance and ends up coming out at the right place, where it’s then put back through the converter, transceiver, and DWDM system to start its next leg of the journey.

The cool thing about this is that the circuits can carry a range of data rates, up to 40 Gbit/s, according to Mitra. With OEO switches like Tellium’s, the overall capacity is fixed, so every notch up in speed entails a notch down in the number of ports. Tellium has a switch that handles 512x512 ports of OC48 (2.5 Gbit/s) traffic, or 128x128 ports of OC192 (10 Gbit/s) traffic. If it were to stretch to 40 Gbit/s, then the switch would only have 32x32 ports.

Tellium’s switch with this overall capacity -- 1.28 terabits a second -- occupies four racks, according to Mitra. TeraBurst’s bigger switch, with 64x64 OC192 ports, occupies only half a rack. It’s a similar picture with power consumption, he contends.

Of course, Tellium is shipping its switch, while TeraBurst has yet to demonstrate its products in public. A demo is planned at Supercomm in less than two weeks’ time. Mitra claims TeraBurst has four letters of intent from carriers interesting in trialing its switches, and two firm commitments to conduct lab tests. He declines to name the carriers.

The OMS2200 is scheduled for limited customer availability next September. The OMS2100 will follow a month later.

TeraBurst’s potential is reflected in the quality of its financial backers. Its latest round, $32.4 million, was led Tyco Ventures, the VC arm of TyCom Ltd. (NYSE: TCM; BSX: TCM) (see TeraBurst Enjoys $32.4M Round). The VC arm of Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MER) led the previous round.

— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading

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