Agilent keeps its eyes on optical networks

Although times have been tough for optical network equipment manufacturers of late, Agilent Technologies Canada Inc. recently pressed on by releasing a number of new products in this area. The Mississauga, Ont.-based company last month announced a whack of new test solutions and components to support more efficient optical networks.

Among the variety of optical testing gear, Agilent has introduced the Modular Network Tester, a portable optical network test platform that features snap-on measurement modules that attach to allow technicians to be properly equipped.

According to Frank Buchanan, applications engineer for Agilent’s outside plant fibre test products in Colorado Springs, Colo., the concept for the Modular Network Tester was spawned from the optical time domain reflectometer (OTDR) world; one of the primary tools used by technicians to install, commission and repair fibre networks. In addition to having OTDR-type testing, the Modular Network Tester can do an optical spectrum analysis that specifically diagnoses different wavelengths in terms of whether they are centred correctly, Buchanan said.

“Another test the product is going to perform is chromatic dispersion,” he explained. “As optical pulses travel down the fibre, they can broaden out. At some points it gets so broad that you can’t determine a one from a zero in digital data. This becomes a bandwidth-limiting phenomenon.”

In other words, he added, the Modular Network Tester allows network maintenance departments for service providers and fibre optic cable installers to ensure that bandwidth is consistent and that fibres can support the bandwidth that is being put on them.

Not only does the product have to perform flawlessly, but Buchanan said that it must be portable for outdoor plant usage, and must be battery operated. He also noted that as technicians perform tests they are less familiar with, they need straightforward answers: pass or fail.

“One of the problems we see is that some of the products currently out there are over-designed for the outdoor plant,” he said. “This is modular, easy to carry, [and] easy to use. The hardware doesn’t use a plug-in technique; it is a snap-on technique with a mainframe that allows modules to be snapped onto the back up to three-deep. It gives you flexibility.”

In addition to the Modular Network Tester, Agilent has also introduced the Photonic All-Parameter Analyzer 81910A designed to ease the manufacturing of passive DWDM components. The company said the product tests all device parameters relevant to narrow-band optical components including insertion loss, polarization dependent loss, chromatic dispersion or group delay, and polarization mode dispersion, which occurs when fibres are not completely circular. The product has a single connection set up that Agilent said reduces costs and increases throughput and comes with Photonic Foundation Library 2.0, Agilent’s measurement control and analysis software.

For Cable Control Systems, Agilent’s optical testing equipment offers the level of performance the company needs. According to Rick Bennett, head fibre manager of the Oakville, Ont.-based cable installation company, Agilent’s Mini-OTDR and Spectrum Analyzer products have given him good results.

“We have been using [these products] for a while … and they have all the capabilities we need for doing testing for status, storage, the whole works,” Bennett said. “I have used different products from different companies before, but I haven’t had the same type of testing response or performance from it. I have had nothing but good results from Agilent.”

According to Werner Huettemann, vice-president and general manager of Agilent’s communications networks solutions, despite the slowdown in carrier spending, there is no doubt that carriers have to continually update transmissions systems to stay competitive.

“It is all about accelerating the next generation of intelligence of optical networks,” Huettemann said in a teleconference last month. “Agilent brings a lot to play. These products are used to test things from photonic engineering to traffic engineering. It is about testing new physical layers, components and chips up to testing how a router behaves when you overload that router with traffic. It is more than optical. It is about strategic network components.”

For more information on Agilent’s optical testing products, visit the company at