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Sycamore goes long with new optical strategy

The networking upstart plans to unveil new technology that helps shuttle data across networks that span large distances.

Networking upstart Sycamore Networks plans to release new hardware for the booming optical networking market that can help shuttle information across vast distances.

Sycamore will develop a new switch, called the SN 10000, for testing by the fourth quarter of this year, and will ship the hardware by the first quarter of 2001.

The Chelmsford, Mass.-based company is among several start-ups and market leaders looking to expand their presence in the fiber-optic network equipment market. Such companies have experienced red-hot demand, as network operators scramble to manage ever-growing network traffic.

Scandinavian service provider Utfors is testing the SN 10000 in Sycamore's U.S. labs, with plans to use the new equipment as it expands its network beyond Sweden, according to company executives.

Other companies, such as start-up Corvis and veteran Nortel Networks, are also developing products for the same optical equipment market.

Optical technology is being used to rapidly expand the capacity of networks. An optical system can take a fiber-optic strand and split it into numerous high-capacity "wavelengths," capable of sending huge amounts of private data and Internet traffic across a network.

Public network bandwidth consumption is expected to increase more than 2,000 percent from 1998 to 2002 alone, according to research from RHK.

Sycamore already has optical switching technology for certain long-distance routes, but none the size--up to 4,000 kilometers--that the SN 10000 plans to tackle, according to analysts. "It definitely helps them fill that gap," said Maribel Dolinov, an analyst with industry consultants Forrester Research.

"It's a piece of the pie we can now go after," a Sycamore spokeswoman said.

Sycamore executives said the new switch will use a set of software common across the company's technology with new optical technology that lets signals sent across a fiber-optic link go farther without electrical regeneration--a costly process that slows a transmission. It also uses new hardware that makes those types of transmissions easier.

Sycamore also claims the new switch will be able to reach 1.6-terabits of capacity, depending on the configuration of the machine.

"Sycamore needed to round out its product line, keeping the company well positioned to compete with Ciena, Nortel and Lucent Technologies in long haul and ultra long haul (markets)," said Chris Nicoll, director of infrastructure analysis for market watcher Current Analysis.

Analysts said the positioning of the new device will be a challenge for Sycamore in the market, given its other technology that performs similar tasks. But executives said it serves a specific niche: high-capacity, ultra long-haul network routes. Those characteristics separate the new switch from Sycamore's SN 8000 device, for example, they said.

"Every network's a little bit different," said Peter Hunt, a product manager for Sycamore's core networking division.