Proximion Bags $10 Million
Founded in 1998, Proximion has 52 employees. The company is a spinoff from ACREO AB, a research institute in Kista, Sweden (formerly the IOF Institute of Optical Research). It had raised $1.3 million in February 2000.
This latest round of finance was led by Add Partners and Celtic House International, a firm funded by Terry Matthews, founder of Mitel and Newbridge Networks. Swedish VC InnovationsKapital, which was the lead investor in Proximion's initial round of funding, also participated.
According to Proximion's CEO Raoul Stubbe, the funding is timely because the startup is getting close to snaring customers. It unveiled its flagship product, dubbed "Wistom," six months ago at the OFC show. It has since started sampling to beta customers (see Proximion Presents Prototype).
Wistom is a gadget that checks and reports on the health of optical signals in a DWDM network. Its main function is to provide an early warning of problems with the optical equipment, before they become visible as a degraded bit error rate (BER) in the signal, claims Stubbe.
"As electronics are pushed towards the edge of the network, it creates a 'cloud' where, from a monitoring perspective, you are blind," he says. That's why optical monitoring is so important.
In function, Wistom combines the best features of an optical channel monitor (OCM) and an expensive, cumbersome optical spectrum analyser (OSA), Stubbe says. Basic OCM components, such as those from Bookham Technology PLC (Nasdaq: BKHM; London: BHM), and Kymata Ltd. simply detect the presence or absence of optical signals and measure their power. OCM's are typically based on a demultiplexer and an array of detectors.
OSAs, on the other hand, use a tunable filter to sweep across a wavelength range. Since the equipment measures the optical power between channels, it can also deduce the optical signal-to-noise ratio (OSNR) and do a range of other more complicated measurements, if needed. There's a drawback: Accuracy is traded off against response time. The response time of such equipment is usually too slow for protecting switching applications.
Companies like Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) make highly accurate, lab-based versions of this equipment. Axsun Technologies has managed to shrink a swept-filter device down to the size of a credit card while retaining high accuracy, but the response time of its device is specified as 1 second -- and that's a long time in optical networking (see Axsun Gets $111 Million for Subsystems).
Wistom can return a response in less than 10 milliseconds, says Stubbe, which is fast enough for protection switching. This is possible because the signal from the detector is fed into two separate digital signal processing chips: One provides basic parameters quickly, while the second performs more complicated processing at its leisure.
Other salient features of Proximion's device are a power accuracy of plus or minus 0.5 dB, and a wavelength accuracy of 20 picometers. "The only spec where we can't compete [with Axsun] is size," Stubbe contends. Wistom is a slim rack-mounted unit just a few inches high.
Another serious competitor to Proximion is Lightchip Inc., which makes an OCM subsystem. This includes software for analysing the power measurements, (it can measure OSNR by interpolation, for example) and a Web browser for remote reporting, says Bill Emkey, Lightchip's VP of marketing (see Why Cisco Loves Lightchip).
Stubbe says that the secret of Wistom's performance is an advanced fiber Bragg grating, together with a tuning mechanism that has no moving parts. "Anyone can make a [simple] fiber Bragg grating, but there are only four groups in the world who can manufacture advanced gratings," Stubbe adds: Ciena, Nortel, and Southampton Photonics.
— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading