Fifteen months after a spectacular fall from the heights of high-tech expectations to the depths of disappointing earnings, Ciena Corp. is back.

Shares of the Maryland maker of fiber-optic communications equipment jumped almost $12 on Tuesday--topping $60 a share for the first time since August 1998, when a shortfall in earnings triggered one of the deepest dives ever survived by a Washington technology stock.

From $85 a share, Ciena stock skidded to $8.56 1/4 a share, killing a planned $7 billion merger with Tellabs Inc.

After slowly clawing its way back for more than a year, Ciena stock began to gain momentum this fall when investors realized that the stunning growth in Internet traffic was driving up demand for equipment used in the fiber-optic networks that carry most Net traffic.

Over the past two months, Ciena stock has doubled. Tuesday was its biggest up day since its crash. Yesterday the stock held on to most of that gain, slipping 18 3/4 cents to close at $59.87 1/2.

The stock is expected to tread water again today, because tomorrow morning Ciena is scheduled to report results for the first quarter of its fiscal year.

The consensus of analysts is that the company will make 2 cents a share for the quarter on revenue of around $142 million, but hints that it will beat the numbers are one of the reasons the stock has been climbing.

After what happened 15 months ago, when the company reported earnings of only 15 cents a share when analysts were expecting 32 cents, no one is expecting any downside surprises.

Ciena's communications with investors has improved since then and so has the market for the company's products, which make it possible to send hundreds of times more signals through fiber-optic communications cables.

Light pulsing through tiny strands of glass carries most of today's long-distance telephone and data-communications traffic, because fiber optics can handle more signals than copper wires.

Ciena found a way to boost the capacity of glass fiber even further by flashing the signals not only in white light but also in multifarious shades of blues and greens, each subtle shade carrying a different signal, explained analyst Joseph Noel of Pacific Growth Strategies, a San Francisco investment boutique whose specialities include telecommunications.

Originally Ciena's systems were used exclusively on the Interstate portions of the information superhighway, the fiber-optic "backbone" that carries traffic between major cities.

Now it is being installed on what are the equivalent of the beltways encircling urban areas--fiber-optic "rings" that have been built around all major cities--and then down the interchanges into the cities.

That's the construction work that is disrupting vehicle traffic all over the Washington area as streets are torn up to install the high-capacity fiber lines to meet the demand for data communications created by the Internet.

Driving fiber deeper into the cities is boosting the demand for Ciena's equipment at the same time that the company has broadened its product line. Ciena spent $436.5 million in March to acquire Lightera Networks Inc., which makes the switches used to route signals on fiber networks. And last month the company announced another new product, which can shine the signals longer distances down the fiber before they need to be amplified.

CAPTION: CIENA

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