Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Infinera and the Dawn of Terabit Networks

At OFC, I sat in on an Infinera press conference and I have to say I was impressed. Of course, I’ve always been impressed with Infinera’s PIC technology, but they seem to have now taken it to an entirely different level. Its new PICs incorporate 5x100G devices and over 600 functions on two chips and on the horizon are 10x100G PICs with perhaps more than 1,000 functions.

Infinera has long stood out in the telecom industry because while it is an equipment manufacturer, its base technology is routed in optical components research and development. This used to be the case for all telecom OEMs including Alcatel, Lucent and Nortel, but all of these companies shed their components development arms in the early 2000s, and of course Alcatel and Lucent are now merged and Nortel is a shell of its former self. Through all of this, Infinera has prospered by successfully leveraging its component expertise to sell its CWDM and DWDM products and innovate to produce new ones.

Infinera had 10x10G, or 100G, long before many of its competitors and now has 5x100G PICs that it expects to have in production before year’s end. In fact, this technology was recently demonstrated in a live network trial with Interoute in Europe. Interoute expects to deploy Infinera’s 500G solution in 2012.

Infinera is focused on $/Gigabit economics and believes in order to maximize this for long haul applications, systems must be multi-channel and monolithic. This is achieved by large scale integration of both active and passive components which has been Infinera’s strength for 10G and below technologies. For 100G, the company has introduced “FlexCoherent®” technology that allows the customer to choose what type of modulation scheme is needed for each of their routes. It is also focused on providing its customers not only ROADMs, but what it calls “flex channels.” Infinera has deemed this technology as “Optical Express,” where intelligence is distributed to every node so each bit can be read.

But Infinera would not have been as successful as it has been if it was just focused on the research and development. Manufacturing of these devices must be reliable and repeatable so, according to its senior management personnel, its engineers “design with manufacturing in mind.”

The next step of development is already underway and will produce a 10x100G product in the near future according to Infinera.

What puzzles me is why other OEMs have not been able to reproduce the results that we’ve seen from Infinera. Is it only the captive components R&D that sets Infinera apart or is it also the fact that its top management has the ability to bridge the business aspects of telecommunications equipment manufacturing with the highly technical world of optical components and networking? I believe it’s both of these along with the fact that Infinera is still a much smaller company than most of its long-haul competitors and can make decisions and move much more quickly. Infinera is a company to watch especially related to long-haul and metro connections of data centers.