The part in question is the TL8000, a module that's tunable and pluggable. Ciena plans to use the TL8000 all over the place, in platforms including the CoreDirector, CoreStream, and CN 4200. (See Ciena Picks Bookham.)
The module, introduced in February, goes on the line side of telecom equipment -- that is, the side facing the metro or long-haul network, as opposed to the side that points to neighboring gear in the central office.
Part of what makes pluggable interfaces important is their size, small enough to pack four 10-Gbit/s interfaces where only one would fit before, says Jim Zik, senior product marketing manager for Ciena.
But the TL8000 doesn't adhere to any multisource agreements (MSAs), such as the XFP format. It's about twice the size of a regular XFP, but smaller than the older Xenpak specification.
That's a compromise Bookham made in order to pack its tunable transceiver into as small a package as possible. Getting down to an XFP size, and getting those modules up to production volumes, will take another 12 to 18 months, says Yves LeMaitre, Bookham's vice president for telecom sales and corporate marketing.
Bookham isn't the only one working on tunable, pluggable modules. JDSU (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU) made some noise in January about its XFP tunable module, although that's not set to come out until year's end. (See JDSU Gets Tunable & Pluggable and JDSU Heads to OFC.)
Along similar lines, Santur Corp. has been working on integrating tunable lasers with pieces like modulators.
That's part of what makes the Ciena announcement important to Bookham. Aware that a "PowerPoint battle" was emerging, Bookham wanted to record a customer win, to show that the products were real, LeMaitre says.
Bragging rights aren't all that's at stake. Bookham has been in the red since its massive acquisition of the Nortel optical components group, many moons ago. Tunable transmitters give it a shot at leading the pack in something that's cutting-edge, and they're therefore important to Bookham's ongoing turnaround.
"Bookham invested a lot in the tunable technology. It's one of the two pillars of our business," LeMaitre says. (The other is 980nm pump lasers for amplifiers.)
Tunables won't save the day singlehandedly. They don't even represent 10 percent of Bookham's revenues yet. And the company's losses, while not as magnificent as in years past, are expected to last well into 2009.
Table 1: Bookham's Slow Turnaround
|Fiscal Year||Revenues ($M)||Earnings Per Share
|Fiscal year ends in June.
** Includes a forecasted profit of 1 cent per share in 4Q09!
Source: Company reports, Reuters
Bookham is Ciena's sole source of tunable pluggables for now, but Ciena is "working with other vendors on the same type of product and format," Zik says. It's not yet been determined whether Ciena will insist that those vendors match the size and shape of Bookham's module.
The other vendors "are not as far ahead as Bookham, let's put it that way," Zik says. "They're not that far behind, either."
Bookham started heavily emphasizing tunables in 2006, when it came out with a tunable laser assembly, a tunable transmitter assembly that incorporated a modulator, and a full-blown tunable transponder module. (See Bookham Launches iTLA and Bookham Storms OFC.)
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading