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Commentary: Evolution, not revolution

Gartner says the purveyors of new optical technology, rather than preaching revolution, should instead help their carrier prospects center on evolution.

By Peter Middleton, Gartner Analyst

Once again, the IT world is confronting a hot new technology in search of a market. Nanoscale optical networking technology offers the promise, one day, of enhanced networking performance and exciting new wireless capabilities. However, the horizon of that future remains decidedly distant, aggravated by some present-day, real-world issues.

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Carriers are continuously looking at new technologies. But their view today is clouded by a basic marketing muddle: "How can I make money with this new technology?" Carriers are asking that question as a result of a massive overbuilding of transport infrastructure during the go-go networking years of the 1990s. The result of that building frenzy is a surfeit of bandwidth capacity.

Photonic technologies provide enormous capacity and promise the ability to reconfigure optical transport pipes. The efficient delivery of data from end user to end user--such as connecting remote LANs (local area networks)--can consume the bandwidth provided by this optical infrastructure. However, for the carriers that handle data traffic, the dilemma lies in how to profit from such a service.

Blame a common consumer mentality for that reality. For example, the price of long-distance calling continues to plummet, becoming the equivalent of a party favor thrown into the bag when consumers buy a cell phone and subscribe to a monthly wireless service. Consumers, consequently, increasingly see long-distance as a quasi-entitlement service. A similar attitude may be prevailing among enterprises when they consider optical innovations that will make their LANs more efficient in linking to their broader networks. Yes, efficiency is laudable, but not at a premium price.

Nanoscale optical technologies offer radical new possibilities in optical component design. Such a revolutionary desire is the hallmark of entrepreneurial start-ups. But the micro-optical trailblazers face a troubled carrier market today--one in which carriers are scrambling just to stay alive. To survive, they're focusing on piecemeal replacement and augmentation of network components without sacrificing current and future performance.

Therefore, the purveyors of new optical technology, rather than preaching revolution, should instead help their carrier prospects center on evolution.

(For a related commentary on optical networking, see

Entire contents, Copyright © 2002 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.