Today for another industry spotlight we dive back into the optical vendor space. While the boxes themselves get most of the headlines, lots of the work in lighting fiber and running networks gets done by components with a much lower public profile. Integra Optics supplies transceivers and related products to service providers of all sizes, making inroads into a business dominated by much larger companies. With us today to talk about Integra Optics and its approach to serving the industry is Founder and CEO Dave Prescott.
TR: How did Integra Optics get started?
DP: I can tell you how I got started. I worked for a cable MSO as a director of engineering. And due to their consolidation, I had the opportunity to relocate or start my own business. So I started Integra and focused on things that I, myself, found as critical and urgent needs for me to do business as an engineering director for a service provider.
TR: And what were those things? What is important to an engineering director at a cable MSO?
DP: My biggest issues were lead time and being able to have more variety of optics available to me than a Cisco offered at the time. Some of the optics Integra carries have a much longer reach or additional bandwidth or wavelengths that Cisco didn’t offer at the time.
TR: What is it that you sell to service providers?
DP: Our primary focus is transceivers as well as any accessories that help our customers turn their networks up faster and keep them up and running, such as fiber jumpers, our Smart Coder, and Uptime Kits. We don’t see the box itself, but we sell everything else to help them complete a job. A lot of our focus is on 100G right now as far as newer pieces coming out.
TR: Tell me about your manufacturing process. What makes it different from the competition?
DP: Well, my background was originally where everything started. I was actually a nuclear engineer, so I’m all about process control and quality control. So we designed and developed mechanical automation in robotics to further remove any opportunities for human error. And to make sure that everything is replicated exactly every time.
TR: Is that using off-the-shelf robotics type things or is that something you had to develop custom?
DP: I would like to think so [laughter]. The arms themselves are off-the-shelf robotic arms, but all the software was developed in-house, as well as our integration to our purchasing and ordering systems. For our competition, that’s all manual. We are continuously improving, and one thing we are working on right now is electronic interfaces with our customers for complete, seamless electronic parts ordering.
TR: So what types of customers are you finding the most strength with?
DP: Cable operators and service providers are our primary customers. But we’ve reached out over the last year or so and started expanding into the enterprise market with the help of VARs. In education we’ve had traction with universities for awhile, but recently it’s been K-12 school systems who are upgrading their networks as part of a larger push to improve the technology accessible to the kids in our school systems now.
TR: What is demand from overseas like right now?
DP: It’s actually quite a bit on the upswing. From the service provider side, there’s, of course, a lot of push for cell tower upgrades as well as more businesses being connected via direct fiber connections. Also, there’s a much larger push with fiber to the home outside of the United States. Lately we’ve been doing more and more business in the Middle East. We do have channel assets overseas as well, and we actually have just opened the faucets there in the last month. But everything’s tracking nicely and tracking the way we expect. A lot of people might say international is a different vertical, but when I travel to Latin and South America, the service provider customers we meet down there have the exact same challenges and the exact same issues with getting transceivers as we’re solving in the US.
TR: You’ve recently made some rebranding moves, what are you trying to do?
DP: I don’t really identify it as rebranding, but rather that we went through the exercise of a true branding. Until now, our brand was primarily spread through word of mouth and through our reputation in the marketplace. We’ve grown exponentially, and knowing that the industry’s doing the same we realized the need for more than that. So we’re now shifting to a marketing-led organization. One of our biggest focuses is simply ensuring that the sophisticated customer can find us. Those who are looking for value, who truly understand value in network uptime, who are looking for a fair price and not necessarily the cheapest price, and who understand the value of purchasing a product that they only have to purchase once and install it and forget it.
TR: Are there any big challenges ahead, for Integra or for the optics industry as a whole?
DP: Actually, I don’t really perceive any major challenges ahead. For us, it’s all about having fun and helping our customers. One amazing thing I learned when I was at that large service provider before I started this company is that we’re really not affected by economic downturns, or upturns for that matter, because people are still going to have their cell phones. They’re still going to watch streaming data. They’re still going to want high-speed internet access at their homes. They’re still going to need high-speed internet access at work.
TR: How do you differentiate yourself from the competition?
DP: I think it’s a fair question that gets asked all the time in the manufacturing process. Not all optics are created equal. In addition to being a nuclear engineer, I’m also a pilot. So it’s in my nature to question process and quality. Would you ever go up on a plane where you knew shortcuts were taken, or cheaper parts were put in, in order to save money? Probably not, because you’d worry about the airplane going down. So what we always challenge, or ask our customers, is whether you would take similar risks with your network?
TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!
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