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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, November 26, 2007, 3:00 am

Centellax sees market return for telecom components

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    SANTA ROSA — It’s all coming around again for Centellax Inc.

    One of a handful of optical-component makers for high-speed fiber networks to survive the telecom implosion, the company is in expansion mode thanks to new demand for its original products, said co-founder, President and CEO Julio Perdomo.

    “We’ve been profitable for over a year, and our revenues are up 65 percent over last year’s,” said Dr. Perdomo, who expects similar growth in 2008.

    Centellax is leaving its 10,000-square-foot location on Aviation Boulevard near the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and moving to an 18,500-square-foot space in the same business park, with an option of growing into an additional 15,000 square feet.

    Centellax makes high-performance test instruments, test accessories and electronic components for high-speed communication and signal integrity applications. Its portfolio has grown from a single component to 35 to 40 products.

    By 2008, the company will employ 42, having grown steadily from four employees with minimum layoffs during the downturn.

    Centellax — “centella” means thunderbolt in Spanish — was founded by three former Agilent Technologies engineers and a Silicon Valley veteran in 2001, the year the first chilly winds of economic slow-down were felt in Telecom Valley.

    As the industry went into a downturn, Centellax shifted its focus from components for the telecom optical network to terrestrial and satellite systems components.

    The Centellax products’ ability to interoperate with wired, optic and wireless systems put them in good standing when flexibility was in order. The company also benefited from a committed group of investors who supported the change of focus.

    Centellax won government contracts for its terrestrial microwave applications. Company engineers also developed applications for satellite systems, used extensively by the shipping industry and increasingly in emergency response systems.

    “But now our products that are in the most demand are for the telecom industry. Our market is back,” said Dr. Perdomo.

    “We sell our modulator drivers to the most important WDM [wavelength-division multiplexing] players all over the world,” he said.

    According to Jeff Montgomery, chairman of Electronicast Consultants Inc., the global market for the type of components Centellax makes is getting stronger by the year.

    “The worldwide market never suffered the blows that fiber optics did in the U.S., where it was severely over-hyped between 1999 and 2002,” said Mr. Montgomery.

    “In this country, when an industry goes up it often overshoots, and then when it goes down the same thing happens.”

    Because it’s relatively easy to start a company in the U.S., lots of startups jumped into the fiber optics components space, he said. When the slump came, they were the first to go, either acquired for a low cost or closed.

    In Sonoma County, optics companies included Network Photonics, Zhone Technology, Cierra Photonics, River House Optics, Willhart Technologies, Metrophotonics, Teltronics, Sonoma Photonics and Triformix.

    Of those, only Centellax, Triformix and Sonoma Photonics survive as independent companies.

    But analysts say the optical-component market is beginning to fulfill its original promise.

    Since 2006, Mr. Montgomery has seen signs of recovery in North America and a global market that’s growing by 15 percent to 20 percent this year with greater growth to come in 2008.

    “Verizon’s build-out of the fiber network is only one of many fiber networks going in. There will be a growing demand for advanced optical components,” he said.

    Centellax will move into its expanded quarters by Dec. 21, said Dr. Perdomo.

    “And as always, we have access to a very talented pool of engineers and technicians to be drawn from as we grow,” he said.

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