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Infinera’s new metro edge gear goes PIC-less

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Infinera (NASDAQ:INFN) unveiled its long-awaited metro edge platform today with one surprise: The new product does not include the photonic integrated circuits (PICs) upon which the equipment vendor has built much of its success.

Infinera’s PICs – a pair of chips that took on some of the functions of photonic components, significantly lowering the cost of optical-to-electrical conversions – have wowed the industry since they debuted in 2004. The company has built them into its long-haul and metro gear, but its newest product – a three-rack-unit metro edge platform called the ATN, with eight 10-Gb/s ports – doesn’t contain them.

“Being a PIC-based company, clearly there was some attention placed on whether it made sense to use the PIC for an edge device such as this,” said Paul Morkel, Infinera’s senior director of product marketing. “We looked at all options. But it became clear that, for this design objective that we had, to support cost-effective single-wavelength service delivery, the approach we took was the right one.”

“The PIC is great for multiple wavelengths of 10 gig[abits per second],” Morkel said. “It comes in 10-wavelength groups. So for applications where you need more than four or five wavelengths, it makes a lot of sense. But for a single wavelength, it’s not the most cost-effective solution.”

For equipment at the edge of the network using wavelengths that would sometimes carry just 2.5-Gb/s, Infinera needed outside components to be cost-competitive in the market, Morkel said. The company didn’t name its chip suppliers.

The lack of PICs is sure to come as a surprise to many, including Jimmy Yu, director of optical transport research at the Dell'Oro Group. Earlier this year, when speculation swelled over whether Infinera would acquire its way to the metro edge, Yu said Infinera’s existing technology, largely centered around 10-Gb/s links, would be well-positioned for metros as capacity needs there began to rise to 10 Gb/s.

“I am surprised,” Yu said of the news that the ATN lacks PICs, adding that he had not examined the product himself yet. “I would have thought that they would continue to leverage the PIC technology in some way. It is what helped them achieve competitive prices and rapidly gain market share in the DWDM long-haul market. My second thought is that the requirements in the metro market are different from long haul. ROADM or optical switching is an important feature to have, even if it's not used. Also, when closer to the edge, only a few wavelengths need to be added and dropped. So using a 10-port PIC in all nodes on a ring may not be cost-competitive at the network level. And 10-Gb/s component prices have come down significantly over the past year.”

Though the ATN can’t claim to replace costly optical components with chips, it does eliminate the need for some transponders when used with Infinera’s metro core gear. Whereas Infinera’s DTN metro core platform normally interfaces with metro edge gear through a pair of back-to-back transponders bookending a short fiber span, the ATN can exchange wavelengths directly with DTNs through filters.

Infinera has been shipping the eight-port ATN since August to four customers, including ITC Deltacom, which was an existing customer.

infinera ATN

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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