Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gigabit Transceivers

by Lisa Huff

In our rush to want to discuss all the new technologies, it seems to me that analysts have forgotten that part of our job is to also point out ongoing trends in existing products. So while talking about Gigabit transceivers might not be as appealing as talking about Terabit Ethernet, it’s also a necessity – especially since, without these devices and the continuing revenue they produce, we wouldn’t have 40/100G or even 10G Ethernet. So what are the important points to make about Gigabit transceivers?

* The market for Gigabit Ethernet transceivers (copper and optical) is expected to be about $2.5-billion in 2010 according to CIR, but it is also supposed to start declining in 2011 when more 10GigE will take its place.

* Pricing for a 1000BASE-SX SFP module is now at about $20 for OEMs. End users still pay Cisco (CSCO) or Brocade (BRCD) or their agents about 8x that much (more about this later).

* Low pricing makes it difficult on profit margins so transceiver vendors hope to make it up in volume.

* While SFP is certainly the preferred form factor, there is still a decent amount of GBIC modules being sold.

* SFP direct-attach copper cable assemblies have become an option for top-of-rack switches to servers instead of using UTP Category patch or fiber cabling, although the majority of implementations today are still UTP patch cords, mainly because the connections within the rack are still 100M with the uplink being Gigabit Ethernet of the 1000BASE-SX variety.

* While 10/100/1000 ports are the norm for desktop and laptop computers, most of these devices are still connected back through standard Category 5e or 6 cabling to 100M switch ports in the telecom room.

* Gigabit Fibre Channel business is pretty much non-existent now. It was quickly replaced by 2G and has progressed through 4G and 8G is expected to become the volume application this year. Look for more on Fibre Channel in future posts.

* Avago Technologies (AVGO) and Finisar (FNSR) top the list of vendors for 1000BASE-SR devices. JDSU (JDSU) has all but disappeared from the scene, mainly because they have de-emphasized this business in favor of their telecom products. In fact, rumor has it that JDSU is shopping its datacom transceiver business and has been for some time.

A note on JDSU: It appears that the optical components giant has taken the technology that was developed at IBM, E2O and Picolight and thrown it away. Picolight was once a leader in parallel optics and, along with E2O, long-wavelength VCSELs. IBM pioneered v-groove technology and the oxide layer that enabled the next leap in speed and improved reliability for 850nm VCSELs. All of these technologies look like they are destined to die a slow, painful death after being acquired by JDSU. The company’s attention is clearly focused on its tunable technology and telecom applications, which is where, of course, it started. JDSU has never had a good reputation for assimilating acquisitions, so none of this should be a surprise. I was optimistic when JDSU bought these companies thinking that now these emerging technologies would be supported by a larger pocketbook. What is the reasoning for JDSU deemphasizing the technologies it acquired? Is it trying to get rid of short-reach competition in hopes that all optical networking would move towards long-wavelength devices? This would have been na├»ve; the likes of Finisar, Avago, MergeOptics and others would still be supporting 850nm optics and there remains a healthy market for them in enterprise networks and data centers—albeit a very competitive one as stated above.

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