After lengthy trials with network operator Broadwing Communications, Corvis said it has shipped equipment to the company to be installed for the first time commercially this week. The deal marks Corvis' first revenues, which will appear on the company's upcoming third-quarter financial statement, according to executives.
Corvis may be the best example in the industry of a company that has benefited from the hype surrounding optical technology. Despite lacking any sales, Corvis went public this past summer and at one point reached a market capitalization comparable to the venerable General Motors.
"We believe that demand for all optical systems is just beginning," a Brean Murray analyst said in a recent report.
Brean Murray, which holds a "buy" rating on Corvis, said the company is an "early leader" in its market and will benefit from the explosion of demand for network capacity, hastened by growth in Net use.
The equipment provider has its skeptics. Corvis is known for releasing few details about its technology, an unpopular practice. The company also has gotten into a patent-infringement spat with fellow optical-systems provider Ciena. The two companies traded lawsuits recently. Corvis' chief executive, David Huber, was a founder of Ciena.
Most analysts estimate that the demand for network capacity will continue to triple every year for the next several years and that the market for optical-based networking equipment will reach more than $15 billion by 2003 in North America alone. Others gunning for the same market niche include Sycamore Networks, Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, Lucent Technologies and others.
Corvis shipped the gear last week to Broadwing Communications, which will install it this week. Broadwing, which invested in the company and said it would buy $200 million worth of equipment, completed trials of Corvis gear in July. Qwest Communications International and Williams Communications continue to test Corvis equipment.
Broadwing believes in a theory it calls "liquid bandwidth," in which it can instantly provision network capacity for its customers and bill them for only the amount used. The company believes Corvis gear is a step in that direction that other carriers have yet to take.
"Corvis right now is the only one making an all-optical switch," said Broadwing spokesman Thomas Osha. "We believe the deployment of Corvis is going to give us a six- to 12-month advantage over our competitors."
Corvis claims its networking technology is the first true all-optical switch, a statement that will be borne out now that the gear is being used by customers, according to analysts.
Fiber-optic networks carry voice and Internet traffic at high speeds as pulses of light. While current systems convert the light beams to electricity to reroute traffic at network junction points, Corvis believes that process is slower and less efficient than handling the traffic optically.
The Corvis Optical Switch switches traffic without converting it from light. Executives say that allows the equipment to move data faster and to use technology to regenerate, or "boost," a signal over long distances, meaning less gear and lower costs for carriers.
"We switch colors of light while they're still light. It has more elegance and simplicity," said Shyam Jha, vice president of marketing at Corvis. "This is an industry first. We have shipped stuff that people are paying money for."