Ciena is essentially Nortel optical reborn; Cisco is an evolution of Cerent’s optical vision of 1999; and Infinera is the upstart long-haul player trying to get into metro optical transport (just like Ciena tried to do during the 1990s).
Infonetics, in their 2015 Optical Network Hardware Vendor Scorecard, described Ciena as “‘hitting on all cylinders,’ ranking Ciena # 1 for market momentum, a leader in market presence, and an overall leader in this highly competitive market.” Reading this excerpt by Bo Gowan was like reviewing a Jurassic movie sequel, as a similar report issued by Dell’Oro in their 2000-era vendor reports, described how Nortel “managed to steal a key market from its rivals, [Lucent and Cisco]. . . Nortel controls 43% of the global market for optical equipment, trouncing its nearest competitor, Lucent, which has a 15% share. Even better, it has virtually no competition in the market for gear with the highest carrying capacity, [OC-192 or 10 Gb/s]. As a result, Nortel's optical revenues are expected to surge this year by 100%, to $10 billion.”
And don’t kid yourself, the Ciena of today is essentially a Nortel-driven engine for innovation in optical transport, especially in the high capacity arena.
As described in my book, The Upstart Startup: How Cerent Transformed Cisco, one of the things that Cerent gave Cisco was a product, a strategy, and a vision as to how to capture a large piece of the optical transport market. That was done successfully by 2001 and continues to be done today, as evidenced by this Infonetics report.
And last but not least is Infinera, a company that started off as disruptive innovator in the long-haul market and now hopes to shake up the metro optical transport market with its acquisition of Transmode. Tom Fallon, Infinera’s leader, is taking a page from the Cisco playbook he helped write during his career there, by acquiring technology that can’t be developed from within, just like Cisco did with Cerent and its other optical acquisitions.
Indeed, it’s the circle of life.
We’ll have to survey the circular landscape of optical transport in another 15 years.