KATANA, Ontario -- Catena Networks Inc., a startup formed by the team behind the Nortel Networks 1-Mbit Modem and Cadence Design Systems Inc.'s Ottawa Design Center, is ready to launch a radical new concept in multiservice digital subscriber line (DSL) hardware with on-chip digital splitters. At the heart of the startups' work is a chip-set design that can handle both DSL services and analog voice.
Since receiving its original funding from Cadence founder Joe Costello, Catena has shifted from a strategy of offering merchant DSP processors to one of selling line cards and access systems for service providers.
Gary Bolton, vice president of product marketing at Catena, said the company will introduce several subsystem DSL products in early 2001, prior to the launch of the company's flagship product. That product is a "no fingerprints" access box for digital loop carriers (DLCs) that is capable of turning every local loop served by a DLC into a broadband line that handles xDSL service and analog phone service simultaneously, without a splitter.
Catena has quietly increased its staff to nearly 200 people. The original founding team included such DSP and telephony experts as Jim Hjartarson, Andrew Deczky and Andy Weirich, and developers with expertise in asynchronous transfer mode, packetized voice software, high-level drivers and other applications have augmented the original DSP and mixed-signal design engineers. Bolton said that bringing in Bob Machlin, former vice president of Cascade Communications and Ascend Communications Inc. as chief executive, was key in expanding Catena's vision.
"We envisioned making DSL ubiquitous through a single universal broadband chip set, with no Pots (plainold telephone service) splitters in the network," Bolton said. "But Bob steered the company to a bigger
vision, keeping the chip technology in house and moving to a system design."
Pots splitters have become a touchy subject in most types of DSL networks. The existence of a splitter
once was seen as the "killer truck roll" problem of full-rate asymmetric DSL. That spurred demand for a
splitterless version of subrate ADSL, G.lite, an effort that ended up requiring that passive microfilters be
used on every phone in a household that uses G.lite. As a result, the adoption of G.lite has been limited in
comparison to full-rate ADSL.
Splitters were not an issue in symmetrical DSL services, because so far most of them have been carried on dedicated phone lines. But new exploratory work is taking place within the International Telecommunication Union's G.SHDSL working group on a symmetrical service that could also carry analog voice. Bolton said that Catena's research could make much of this 0work obsolete, since the company claims to be able to add digital splitters to any transceiver design to allow analog voice and any xDSL service to be combined.
While Infineon Technologies Inc. in Munich has combined on-chip splitters with its DSL designs by starting with a susbcriber-line integrated circuit and then adding DSL modulation, Catena has turned this model on its head by using a discrete multitone baseband DSP modem as its core design and adding the mixed-signal splitter technology as an overlay.
Catena has applied for more than 20 patents, including a "stealth power" patent to cut overall baseband
power dissipation in half compared to typical designs, and a "lifeline packet voice" patent for adding lifeline services to packetized voice. Catena said it plans to use an all-digital loop technology, capable of achieving densities of up to 2,100 lines in a 7-foot rack.
The development of a full element management system with flow-through provisioning software will be as
critical to Catena as the hardware the company has developed. The EMS software Catena will offer will be
compatible with the network management systems developed for DSL Access Multiplexers that comply
with the Joint Procurement Committee standards.
The company's technology faced tough skeptics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other
institutions, but after demonstrating the on-chip splitter technology to several external groups, Catena has
turned the skepticism around, pulling in more than $45 million in venture money from sources such as
Bessemer Partners and Chase Capital. Bolton said that although the company anticipates several offers for
acquiring technology rights outright, "we treat this as a strategic issue, and we're not in this company to flip
it. All the founders have been in the business for many years, and are not in this simply to make money."