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Optinel Pitches Multiformat Transport Gear

Optinel Systems Inc. is pitching cable operators on a new regional and metro optical transport system that would allow them to ship video and data signals in their native formats — potentially saving thousands of dollars in signal conversion costs.

"The Plexis MFX is a multiformat transport," said company founder and chief technical officer Sandeep Vohra. "This optical-transport design is more scalable and is up to five to six times cheaper" than synchronous optical network (SONET)-based transport solutions, he said.

In the near future, Vohra said, operators could find themselves shipping voice traffic over SONET; Internet-protocol traffic over SONET or Ethernet; and video in either analog, quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting)-ASI (Application Software Interface) or Ethernet formats.

"The question is how do you transport them all around a ring without putting it into a standard format?" Vohra asked.

"The operator has translation costs with Motorola [Inc.] and Scientific-Atlanta [Inc. gear]," he added. "That becomes very, very prohibitive."

The Optinel system allows MSOs to "keep everything in its native form," Vohra said.

Adelphia trial

Adelphia Communications Corp. recently completed a trial of Optinel's Plexis transport system in its northern Virginia system, where live digital video signals were sent in their native formats.

"Optinel's transport system provides a viable option to SONET-based systems," Adelphia regional corporate director of engineering Abe Naghibi said in a statement. "Optinel's system yielded several improvements over traditional systems, including better picture quality and lower error count."

One of the features Adelphia tested was Optinel's ability to "drop" video signals at smaller headends as part of a long trunk run. In tests, Optinel has sent traffic more than 130 miles in its native format, Vohra said.

"With the native format, we can siphon off traffic to small systems in between two large systems," Vohra said.

That's important for cable operators like Adelphia, Charter Communications Inc., Cox Communications Inc. and other MSOs with smaller systems that sit between larger clusters.

Optinel is in a sweet spot, according to Vohra, because Plexis is less expensive than other transport options, such as Gigabit Ethernet. MSOs can deploy Optinel's transport system and provide VOD for those smaller systems that sit between larger systems, he said.

That would allow those MSOs and smaller systems to effectively compete against satellite, he said.

Optinel's drop-and-forward network architecture is called Fractional Optical Multiplexing. It enables all-optical sharing of traffic among several receiving sites.

Optinel, which is the middle of raising its second round of venture capital funding, tapped a familiar face to be chief executive officer several months ago: Jim Faust, the former Clearband and Zenith Cable Electronics executive.