CALIENT Technologies

Move the light, not the fiber

The History of CALIENT: A Tale of Two Internet Booms

For CALIENT, as for Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

That sums up the early history of CALIENT, which can be told in a tale of two Internet booms.  The first boom in 2000 that helped get the company started, and the second boom today that has reinvigorated the company and pointed its photonic switching technology at new markets.

That’s according to the company’s Chief Development Officer Gregory Koss, who spoke recently at a meeting of the MIT Enterprise Forum Central Coast in Santa Barbara near the company’s headquarters.

CALIENT was founded in the first Internet boom, in 2000 when email and e-commerce were driving growth in data traffic.  There was a huge rush to build bigger and better networks, which eventually fizzled when bandwidth demand stagnated.

More than eight leading industry vendors poured about $4.5 billion dollars into photonic switching with most of that coming from Nortel’s $3.25 billion acquisition of Xros Networks.  It was in this environment that CALIENT was able to raise $400 million to build a fab and deliver its first systems.  But most of those companies are not alive today – so why is CALIENT thriving?

The amazing part of the story is how investors and management kept the belief in CALIENT’s photonic switching technology.

Flash forward to today’s Internet boom driven by video and rich media.  And CALIENT stands alone as the only photonic switch vendor with the performance and the port density to take advantage of this new Internet boom.

Koss went on to give some interesting facts about the company and its technology:

  • Over $400M invested to develop and perfect core field-proven 3D MEMS optical technology, process improvements and 90+ patents
  • 3D MEMS photonic switches have more than eight years of continuous operation in Tier 1 Service Provider & Government networks.
  • The photonic switch core has a 320×320 switch capacity that draws less than 45 watts and has less than 1.8 dB insertion loss.
  • CALIENT has its own fab that leverages its deep-silicon etch manufacturing process for MEMS manufacturing.
  • Since 2003, the size of CALIENT switches has gone from being as big as a refrigerator to about the size of a microwave oven – with an increase in port density from 256×256 to 320×320 and a significant drop in the per-port cost of switching.

It was a great evening and an appreciative crowd who are now experts on CALIENT.

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