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,
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.