No PICs in Infinera’s Metro

October 19th, 2009 by · Leave a Comment

According to a nice piece from TelephonyOnline, the new metro gear that Infinera (NASDAQ:INFN, news, filings) is introducing today does not use the company’s flagship technology, the photonic integrated circuit or PIC.  The new metro gear is a three rack unit called an ATN, and it carries eight 10Gbps ports.  Rather than saving money when scaling to huge bandwidths, the ATN apparently serves Infinera customers by interfacing more directly with its DWDM gear, saving some transponders and hopefully ensuring a network that is smoother to operate than it would otherwise be.  On the other hand, unless there are further surprises in store, having no PICs seems to limit the likely market for the gear to Infinera’s DWDM customers since there is not much differentiation from other gear in other networks.

This probably does come as a surprise to many, since Infinera’s identity is so tightly tied to its PICs.  But for me, all it does is answer a whole lot of questions I had about their metro effort from the beginning.  It never made sense to me to take the scaling ability of the PIC very deep into metro networks.  Yes traffic is growing rapidly there, but mathematics requires that the longhaul always carry an order or two of magnitude more traffic than its tributaries.  In other words, no matter how much traffic grows, scaling a metro network will always be a very different problem then scaling a longhaul network at any given point in time.   There is no reason why the same technology ought to be best for both cases.  So the fact that their gear turned out to not have PICs is encouraging, there is always a danger that a company like this might become too dogmatic about their earlier breakthroughs and try to apply the same idea over and over again. 

While perhaps this gear will have a smaller technological impact than the PICs did, it does herald a new stage in Infinera.  While PICs will obviously continue to be their raison d’être, new products will be added to leverage them.  They are no longer a one trick pony, and the question becomes what next?  They have native 40Gbps waves on the menu of course, but perhaps we will see something on the packet-optical front start to develop.

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