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Agility garners $83 million in funding

The fiber-optic component manufacturer will announce next week that it has secured $83 million in a third round of financing.

Fiber-optic component manufacturer Agility Communications will announce next week that it has secured $83 million in a third round of financing.

General Motors Investment Management, the automaker's capital investment arm, led the round of funding, which also included new stakes by Ciena and Tellabs, two communications equipment companies and potential Agility customers.

Agility has raised a total of nearly $170 million to date from Morgenthaler Ventures, U.S. Venture Partners, Meritech Capital Partners, Worldview Technology Partners, Alliance, Global Strategic and Granite Global Ventures.

The overall U.S. economic slowdown and the poor recent performance of the communications sector has choked off funding to many communications industry start-ups for months. But venture capitalists have again begun to show a willingness to invest in certain niche markets, particularly the market for fiber-optic networking equipment. Recent research studies show the fiber-optic market will continue to grow over the next five years.

Executives said Agility's steady early performance helped to attract further investment despite the market downturn.

"Fundamentally, we executed on our first few rounds of funding with products and customers," said Arlon Martin, vice president of marketing at Agility.

Agility makes so-called tunable lasers. The equipment is a component in fiber-optic systems, such as those made by Ciena and Tellabs. Fiber-optic systems deliver data and voice calls as multi-colored pulses of light. Equipment manufacturers in the past have used "fixed" lasers, which deliver traffic on only one frequency, requiring them to buy dozens of different lasers to produce multiple colors. But tunable lasers are adjustable, allowing equipment makers to save money by buying tunable lasers in bulk and simply tuning them to the specific frequency desired.

In addition to the financing, Agility will name Charles Froland, a managing director of private market investments for GM Investment Management, and David Rickey, chief executive at Applied Micro Circuits, as members of the Agility board of directors.

As part of their investments, Ciena and Tellabs will have a say in the development of and production plans for Agility's products, Agility executives said.