Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Optical Interconnection Players Strengthening Their Businesses

By Lisa Huff

Molex just purchased Luxtera’s AOC business completing the circle that all the other optical interconnect players started. During the telecom bust in the early 2000’s, Amphenol, FCI, Molex and Tyco Electronics all either de-emphasized their optical interconnect businesses or exited them all together. Now, they have all re-entered. Why?

While they are all working on more high-speed copper solutions like the one Tyco showed for 25G and beyond at SC10, I beleive they also see the writing on the wall. While they won’t admit it, I think they know that beyond 100G copper cable interconnects may have FINALLY reached the end of their useful life. At 40G and 100G, for example, there is still no twisted-pair solution and the direct-attach copper can only reach about 7m reliably.

It has been interesting watching the choices these traditional connector companies have made:
  • Amphenol: It never exited the optical interconnect business, but left the transceiver products to Avago, Finisar, JDSU and others until recently. It has a stronghold on the short-reach copper direct-attach market so has inroads at customers for its AOCs and modules.
  • FCI: Exited the optics business entirely for a few years but then started again from scratch and subsequently purchased MergeOptics in February 2010. MergeOptics is what was left of Infineon Technologies and still has strong technical abilities in short-reach products. It also has the building blocks to provide all-optical interconnects all the way from the chip (see my previous posts on MergeOptics). They can provide both AOCs and transceiver modules so have the ability to cover all high-speed markets in InfiniBand, Ethernet and Fibre Channel.
  • Molex: Purchased Luxtera’s AOC business recently. So while FCI and Tyco are stressing short-wavelength technologies, Molex has turned to custom long-wavelength ones. Luxtera’s technology is based on 1490nm devices, which really doesn’t matter if you’re purchasing an AOC, but will matter if you want transceiver modules. According to company representatives, they will eventually get back into supplying transceiver modules, but there has been no evidence of this as of yet. Perhaps the possession of Luxtera AOCs will prompt this.
  • Tyco Electronics: Tyco exited the transceiver business in the early 2000’s, but still had a very active fiber-optic interconnect business – especially for premise wiring (AMP NETCONNECT). It acquired Zarlink Semiconductor’s optical products group in May 2010. Zarlink is on the forefront of parallel-optics technology and was one of the first to introduce AOCs. It does not appear that Tyco intends to supply optical transceiver modules again.
I would never bet against copper re-inventing itself in order to meet the demands of future high-speed networks, but with optical 10G dominating the market currently and 40/100G optical products starting to emerge, it will be an uphill battle for copper solutions to gain traction. And beyond 100G, all bets are off. I’m thinking that these companies are reaching the same conclusions and that if they don’t add optical capabilities soon, they may render themselves obsolete within the next ten years or so. That's not to say that there won't be a vibrant businesses in both copper structured cabling and interconnects over the next ten years - there will be. But I think that R&D dollars will be better spent on optical interconnect technologies rather than trying to figure out how to run 25G signals using copper interconnects (including backplanes.) Or how to convince end-user customers in the US that a shielded structured cabling solution for 40G is better than a short-reach optical one because it will be cheaper - but at what cost to power, cooling and space?

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. You hit it on the head w.r.t.: power, cooling and space.

    Few human dynamics are more resilient than the stubbornness of IT cultural predilections. Some organizations that I've come across will turn down millions of dollars in savings in power and rentable real-estate costs, over time, in favor of sticking with Category x UTP/STP. There oughta be a book ...


  2. Thanks for sharing this information on interconnection.
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