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Positron & Aktino Target Access

Aktino Inc. didn't reveal the purchase amount when it got acquired by Positron Inc. earlier this week. (See Positron Acquires Aktino.) But there's been a bigger question on the minds of some, including one Aktino competitor contacted by Light Reading: What the heck is Positron?

Turns out, it's a long story, one that's graced Light Reading's pages a couple of times, but only in glimpses. Positron chief operating officer Claude Brisson took a few minutes this week to explain.

Montreal-based Positron Inc. has been around forever (or maybe since 1970). It's something of a mother-ship company that's been home to many divisions and spinoffs over the years. For example, it's got a public safety division, selling systems to 911 services, that was sold off a couple of years ago but remains headquartered in Positron's building. We're not making that part up.

Aktino plays into Positron's Sonet/SDH story. The Positron Fiber Systems division was created in 1995, selling Osiris, a family of OC3 and OC12 networking boxes. After the division went public, it got bought by Reltec. Reltec was bought by Marconi. Positron bought back the product line from Marconi in 2003. (See Positron Buys Marconi Sonet Line.)

Oh, but there's more. The group including Osiris spun out again, as Aethera Networks -- but that got shuttered by investors in December 2007, with assets sold off the following month. (See Ethernet Casualty.) Aethera's products then got picked up by -- wait for it -- Positron. We're still not making this up.

"Positron Inc. took all that back because the customer base that was there was our customer base from the beginning," Brisson says. "The Osiris product has been through five company name changes but remains the product it is, and the team have kept together."

Now this division is getting named Positron Access, consisting of Osiris; Aethera's AEX product line for pseudowires and Ethernet over PDH; and Aktino. (Positron Inc. also runs a business called Positron Power, which sells electrical isolation products to telcos.)

Brisson says Aktino's technology will remain a separate box, rather than getting merged into the Sonet/SDH-minded Osiris.

So, how about Aktino's side of the deal? Aktino came out in 2005 and planned to make a difference in the Ethernet-over-copper market by using discrete multitione (DMT) line codes, as opposed to the SHDSL variety of DSL used by other companies. The argument was that this boosted performance and reach. (See Aktino Dives Into Copper.)

Aktino hasn't generated heavy buzz in the years since, being overshadowed by competitors Actelis Networks Inc. and Hatteras Networks Inc. and, later, by Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN). Aktino changed things around by recruiting Lonnie Martin, formerly of White Rock Networks, as CEO in March 2008. (See Aktino Hires New CEO.)

Aktino scored a "major win" in South America late last year, says Hossam Salib, its senior vice president of marketing (who's keeping that title with Positron). And while the company's revenues weren't surmised to be all that big, it did grow 50 percent in 2008 compared with 2007.

That's brought Aktino close to break-even, Salib says. But of course, "close" means it's not profitable yet.

"That's kind of the issue, and our competitors are probably in the same situation -- nobody is profitable," Salib says. "We had to be bought by someone big, or raise money. And in this environment, nobody can raise money."

Positron is a safe haven partly because it's got strong finances, the product of having sold off some other businesses, Salib says.

Another attractive aspect to Aktino is that it gets to stay intact and keep its Calabasas, Calif., headquarters. Positron will retain most of the Aktino staff to create a combined operation of 40 to 50 people.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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