Another form of optical innovation came to Rochester, driven by a telephone company that sought to try new things and create better services for its customers. That going concern was Rochester Telephone, founded in the early days of the telephone industry. It started its life as an independent telco, not affiliated with the nationwide “Ma Bell” network. Rochester became the thirteenth largest telephone company and the largest one in the state of New York. Customers in 14 states were served up their local telephone service from Rochester Telephone.
Doug Juers left Nortel Networks in December 1998, in favor of a sales opportunity with Cerent. He recalls one of his more challenging sales calls with the Upstart Startup, “It was difficult because of a rarely called snowstorm emergency by Rochester Tel. That was saying something, since bad storms in Rochester are not uncommon.”
Doug recalls pulling the Cerent 454 [demo unit] through the snow and meeting Jim Watts on March 10, 1999 at 10:50am in the morning. He was impressed that Jim was hard at work, in spite of the stay-at-home warning, and Jim was no less impressed with Doug’s commitment to come in and show off Cerent’s wares.
“Jim Watts never came out to Petaluma for a visit,” Doug told me. “He bought the product, I’m sure, because of that initial meeting.”
Concurrent with Doug’s joining Cerent, Frontier announced in December 1998 the establishment of its high-speed “network express lane” on its Optronics Network  using Pirelli’s TeraMux Hyper-Dense wavelength division multiplexing system. The idea was to use this new equipment to link twenty of Frontier's busiest markets on gigabit fiber routes, a notion announced by the company’s CEO in June of that year. Frontier hoped to light up the Pirelli optics with Hitachi’s OC-192 optical transport system. At this time, Cerent wasn’t even on Frontier’s radar.
Doug “stormed the beaches” and immediately caught the attention of Jim Watts and his colleagues at Frontier . From those early meetings in March to the start of Supercomm ’99 in June, the Cerent team outhustled its competitors and addressed a list of Frontier concerns, all of which were answered:
- The role of the Cerent 454’s first product release as a DS3 feeder for Hitachi’s OC-192, a long haul product that did not provide DS3 drops on its own 10 Gb/s platform.
- Demonstrate optical interoperability with both the Pirelli DWDM product and also the Hitachi OC-192 offering, as well as legacy NEC OC-48 gear.
- The ability of the Cerent 454 to support incoming international traffic, including STM-x interfaces, a popular connection option for major long distance carriers such as AT&T, MCI, Sprint, and Global Crossing, to name a few.
- Enable a Cerent 454 ring configuration beyond the industry standard sixteen nodes and still meet the required failure mode switching times. Cerent anticipated such a need, in 1998, and was granted a patent in February 2002, allowing up to 256 nodes to be present on a single ring.
- Support connectivity with the Objective Systems Integrators (OSI) network management system used by Frontier’s operations personnel to manage their telecom infrastructure.
“Frontier is flourishing in a fast-moving industry by building a more responsive network that serves the growing communications needs of our customers,” said Jim Watts, Director of Transport Engineering, at Frontier. “Traditional transport solutions are expensive and designed primarily for voice traffic. Today’s environment of rapid deregulation and rapid expansion of the Internet has created a host of new rules. We needed a platform that is cost-effective and would grow with us. The Cerent 454 is the only solution available today that is flexible enough to fit our needs.”
This quote was used in Cerent’s June 1999 press release announcing the twelve-month agreement in which Frontier would take $3 million dollars worth of Cerent 454 equipment. Frontier used much more than that over the years.
Carl Russo, Cerent’s president and chief executive officer, recognized the value of the receipt of such an order in legitimizing the company, an event that would ease the concerns of other major telephone companies using a startup for their infrastructure needs. In that same press release, Carl said, “Frontier has made a name for itself by listening to its customers; and we’re doing the same thing. Cerent has delivered the first evolutionary optical transport platform, the Cerent 454. We’ve introduced a simpler, more cost-effective optical transport solution that ships in hours or days. The Cerent 454 permits Frontier to instantly add and provision traffic, giving it a significant competitive advantage in this Internet age of surging bandwidth demands.”
This win was a big deal! It helped sustain the post-Supercomm’99 buzz for Cerent as the hottest property in the telecom universe.
Looking Back on the Frontier Experience
Doug reflects on winning the optical transport business for Cerent, “I was fairly confident at Nortel that I did a good job there. [At Cerent,] I had to take nothing and make something out of it. I had not done that before. I went to the IOCs and broke in with Rochester Tel, then went to the cable companies and won 6 of the 7 there, and then went over to AT&T and broke in there and made it the largest account within Cisco for 8 of the 10 years I worked there. It felt pretty good. It’s one of the best products I’ve sold to date.” Doug guessed, in 2013, during our interview, “There’s probably 50,000 or so ‘454’s out there.” He adds, “It’s just freakin’ amazing.”
Cerent alumni say, “Thank you, Rochester!”
 David Owen, in his 2004 book, Copies In Seconds: Chester Carlson and the Birth of the Xerox Machine, described Rochester as a hub of optical innovation.
Jim Watts Director of Transmission Engineering
Carl Krentz Optical Transmission Engineer (Long Distance)
Gregg Palinski Manager, Transmission Engineering (Local Services)
Madan Shastri Optical Transmission Engineer (Long Distance)
Cory Tynon SONET Transmission Engineer (Local Services)
Shelby Jozwiak Sr. Operations Team Leader
Yvonne Brown Network Support Engineer
Duane Shaifer Manager of NOC
Pete Severts Director of NOC Operations
Mike Wormley Network Support Engineer
Charles Colbert SONET Manager
Dan Enright Sr. Vice President of Operations
Dave Keech Director of Engineering & Technology Planning (Local Services)
David Jorgensen Transmission Engineer (Local Services)
Tom Kramer Technology Manager
Tom Richardson Sr. Project Manager, Systems & Product Development
Mark Goerhing Systems & Product Development
Mary Hughson Network Architect