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Tuesday
Sep212010

Cisco Systems' coherent power move

Cisco Systems’ acquisition of CoreOptics means the company has largely cornered the coherent market, says Telecom Pragmatics. 

Cisco Systems announced its intent to acquire the optical transmission specialist CoreOptics back in May. CoreOptics has digital signal processing expertise used to enhance high-speed long-haul dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) optical transmission. Cisco’s acquisition values the German company at US $99m.

 

"Let me be clear, we don’t believe 100Gbps serial will dominate the market for a long time, or 40Gbps for that matter"

Mark Lutkowitz, Telecom Pragmatics

 

 

 

“It has become clear that Cisco, with a few exceptions, has cornered the coherent market for 40 Gig and 100 Gig,” says Mark Lutkowitz, principal at market research firm, Telecom Pragmatics, which has published a report on Cisco's move.

Prior to Cisco’s move, several system vendors were working with CoreOptics for coherent transmission technology at 40 and 100 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps). Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) was one and had invested in the company, another was Fujitsu Network Communications. Telecom Pragmatics believes other firms were also working with CoreOptics including Xtera and Ericsson (CoreOptics had worked with Marconi before it was acquired by Ericsson).

ACG Research in its May report Cisco/ CoreOptics Acquisition: What Does It Mean for the Packet Optical Transport Space? also claimed that the Cisco acquisition would set back NSN and Ericsson and listed other system vendors such as ADVA Optical Networking and Transmode that may have been considering using CoreOptics’ 100Gbps multi-source agreement (MSA) design.

“The mere fact that you have all these companies working with CoreOptics - and we don’t know all of them – says it all,” says Lutkowitz. “This was the company they were initially going to be depending on and Cisco made a power move that was brilliant.” 

With Cisco bringing CoreOptics in-house, these system vendors will need to find a new coherent technology partner. “The next chance would be with a company like Opnext coming out with a sub-system,” says Lutkowitz. “There is no doubt about it – this was a major coup for Cisco.”

For Cisco, the deal is important for its router business more than its optical transmission business. “In terms of transceivers that go into routers and switches it was absolutely essential that Cisco comes up with coherent technology,” says Lutkowitz. Cisco views transport as a low-margin business unlike IP core routers. “This [acquisition] is about protecting Cisco’s bread and butter – the router business,” he says.

The acquisition also has consequences among the router vendors. Alcatel-Lucent has its own 100Gbps coherent technology which it could add to its router platforms. In contrast, the other main router player, Juniper Networks, must develop the technology internally or partner. Telecom Pragmatics claims Juniper has an internal coherent technology development programme.

 

40 and 100 Gig markets

Cisco kick-started the 40Gbps market when it added the high-speed interface on its IP core router and Lutkowitz expects Cisco to do the same at 100Gbps. “But let me be clear, we don’t believe 100Gbps serial will dominate the market for a long time, or 40Gbps for that matter.”

In Telecom Pragmatics’ view, multiple channels of 10Gbps will be the predominant approach. First, 10Gbps DWDM systems are widely deployed and their cost continues to come down. And while Alcatel-Lucent and Ciena already have 100Gbps systems, they remain expensive given the infancy of the technology.  

But with business with large US operators to be won, systems vendors must have a 100Gbps optical transport offering. Verizon has an ultra-long haul request for proposal (RFP), AT&T has named Ciena as its first domain supplier for its optical and transport equipment but a second partner is still to be announced. And according to ACG Research, Google also has DWDM business.

 

What next?

Besides Alcatel-Lucent, Ciena, Infinera, Huawei, and now Cisco developing coherent technology, several optical module players are also developing 100Gbps line-side optics. These include Opnext, Oclaro and JDS Uniphase. There are also players such as Finisar that has yet to detail their plans. Lutkowitz believes that if Finisar is holding off developing 100Gbps coherent modules, it may prove a wise move given the continuing strength of the 10Gbps DWDM market.

Opnext acquired subsystem vendor StrataLight Communications in January 2009 and one benefit was gaining StrataLight’s systems expertise and its direct access to operators. Oclaro made its own subsystem move in July, acquiring Mintera. Oclaro has also partnered with Clariphy, which is developing coherent receiver ASICs.

But Telecom Pragmatics questions the long-term prospects of high-end line-side module/ subsystem vendors. “This [technology] is the guts of systems and where the money is made,” says Lutkowitz. “Ultimately all the system vendors will look to develop their own subsystems.”

Lutkowitz highlights other challenges facing module firms. Since they are foremost optical component makers it is challenging for them to make significant investment in subsystems. He also questions when the market 100Gbps will take off.  “Some of our [market research] competitors talk about 2014 but they don’t know,” says Lutkowitz.

But is not the trend that over time, 40Gbps and 100Gbps modules will gain increasing share of the line side systems optics, as has happened at 10Gbps?  

That is certainly LightCounting’s view that sees Cisco’s move as good news for component and transceiver vendors developing 40 and 100Gbps products. LightCounting argues that with Cisco’s commitment to the technology, other system vendors will have to follow suit, boosting demand for the higher-margin products.

“There will be all types of module vendors but it is possible that going higher in the food chain will not work out,” says Lutkowitz. “There will be more module and component vendors than we have now but all I question is: where are the examples of companies that have gone into subsystems that have done relatively well?”

Opnext is likely to be the next vendor with 100Gbps product, says Lutkowitz, and Oclaro could easily come out with its own offering. “All I’m saying is that there is a possibility that, in the final analysis, systems vendors take the technology and do it themselves.”

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