SAN FRANCISCO -- The optical switching bake-off has just begun, but already Ciena (CIEN) - Get Report is laying claims to the blue ribbon.

Ciena's head of core switching, Elizabeth Perry, told an overfilled ballroom of investors at the

Robertson Stephens Technology 2001 Conference

here Monday that she sees no slowdown in demand and very little by way of competition.

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Ciena is scheduled to report earnings Thursday morning, which presumably had the company's big brass tied up back at headquarters in Linthicum, Md. And though Perry couldn't field any questions about financial numbers, she did dish the dirt on rivals

Sycamore

(SCMR)

,

Tellium

and

Cisco Systems

(CSCO) - Get Report

.

Ciena makes optical transport and switching equipment, essentially the new brains inside optical fiber networks. The switching gear in particular plays a central role in these networks, almost like an operating system in a computer. Though the dollar value of these contracts is relatively low, getting in the door is seen as the key part of the win as network builders add more optical equipment.

Last week, Ciena

won a $200 million contract with

McLeodUSA

(MCLD)

, making McLeod the 37th announced customer and the 10th to buy Ciena's

CoreDirector

optical switch.

Perry said Sycamore can't scale, a claim Sycamore would refute and cite its switching wins with

360Networks

(TSIX)

and others. She said Tellium's box had a different role than Ciena's switch, and that Cisco's heavily anticipated wavelength router is MIA, adding fuel to the speculation that Cisco is having problems with its Monterey switch. (Cisco says development of its switch is ongoing but unchanged.)

And though Perry said there was no signs of a slackening demand, she was asked why the company had to raise $1.5 billion last week. Ciena sold 11 million shares in a secondary offering and issued $600 million in convertible debt last Tuesday.

Perry said the company was simply adding a little cash padding, but didn't say if it was earmarked for specific use.

The company has a

pending acquisition of optical metropolitan equipment maker Cyras.

Ciena shares fell $6.25, or nearly 8%, to $73.62 Monday. Meanwhile, Sycamore was up more than 2% and Cisco rose 4%.

Wall Street expects Ciena to post earnings of 15-cent per share on revenue of $315 million. So it'll soon be easy to see whether Perry's observations were on track.