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Start-Ups Toss Technology Bouquet

by Joe McGarveySomething old. Something new. Something borrowed.

by Joe McGarvey

Something old. Something new. Something borrowed.

Although that familiar refrain may sound like three-quarters of a wedding day wish list, it's also a fitting theme for the industrywide effort to invent, adapt and retrofit technology to find the perfect product to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding telecommunications market.

In the past few months, a barrage of young companies have launched telecommunications gear that introduces new technologies or leverages high-tech wonders originally intended for another environment and, in some cases, another solar system.

"Our technology is based on unique modem technology developed by Lockheed Martin," says Dana Waldman, president and chief executive of Centerpoint Broadband Technologies. "We are taking satellite communications technologies and reapplying it to the telecommunications space."

Centerpoint is among a group of well-funded start-ups battling to win the hearts and wallets of service providers desperate to find equipment that can turn existing and largely voice-centric infrastructures into lean and mean environments capable of handling a high volume - and various kinds - of data traffic.

This effort has yielded a new crop of industry acronyms, including SCM (Sub-Carrier Multiplexing), OFDM (Optical Frequency Division Multiplexing) and DTM (Dynamic Synchronous Transfer Mode).

Centerpoint is one of two start-ups building equipment to improve the data carrying efficiency of metropolitan area and local networks, by making it possible to cram more streams of data onto a single optical wavelength. Centerpoint's SCM technology is sort of a reversal of the popular Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) technology, which increases bandwidth capacity by creating multiple wavelengths of bandwidth that occupy a single fiber-optic strand.

Centerpoint's aim is to make better use of a single wavelength. "We provide delivery and transport of various services carriers are selling to their customers," Waldman says. "We can pack more per wavelength than anybody."

Disputing that claim is Dawn Hogh, vice president of marketing at Kestrel Solutions, which recently unveiled its first product, the TalonMX.

Kestrel, backed by more than $185 million in venture capital funding, uses a slightly different modulation technology than Centerpoint to move data on and off a fiber-optic cable. Kestrel's OFDM-based approach is actually a combination of three existing technologies that Kestrel scientists have welded into a single system. OFDM - a combination of digital signal processing, FDM and optical modulating technologies - works by mixing a variety of electronic signals into a single optical stream.

"We are taking different channels and stacking them together into one optical channel," Hogh says. "Using a single laser, we can pack those channels into a single wavelength."

One of the major benefits of Kestrel's FDM technology, according to Hogh, is that it is able to work with a variety of fiber-optic strands, gleaning maximum efficiencies from older or even damaged fiber installed in metro areas.

Another company tackling the metropolitan area with a new twist on technology is Net Insight. The company's product line is based on DTM, which is designed to combine the reliability and flexibility of traditional circuit-based voice technology with the dynamic provisioning and data carrying attributes of packet-based technologies, such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode.

The major advantage of DTM, says Bruce Sherman, vice president of North American operations at Net Insight, is its ability to offer data services in increments that were impossible under the rigidly fixed capabilities of Synchronous Optical Network gear. "If a customer is signed up for a 20-megabit-per-second service and now wants 30 [Mbps], the carrier can just bump them up another 10 megs," Sherman says. "We can allow increases and decreases in capacity on the fly."

Another major backer of DTM is Dynarc, which recently released equipment designed to provide carriers with a single system for offering Internet access and virtual private network services.

The metropolitan portion of the network is not the only place enterprising companies hope to energize with new technologies. In the long-haul network, where the name of the game is distance, Algety Telecom is pushing Solitan DWDM technology to increase the ability of DWDM gear to transmit laser signals without requiring frequent regeneration of the signal along the path.

A predecessor of DWDM, Solitan research was put on hold after researchers became infatuated with the bandwidth multiplying capabilities of DWDM. Algety hopes the technology can be resurrected now that carriers see a need to stretch both the capacity and reach of fiber-optic networks.

While several backers of these new, old and borrowed technologies appear certain to gain traction in either the metro portion or backbone of the public network, the intense competition for these markets will mean some approaches might never catch on. And while the inability to attract a customer base may be to the dismay of those companies, their failures will at least complete the wedding-day analogy.

Something blue.