Hurry up and wait

One of the themes underlying this month’s “Tech Trends ”article on chip development for 100-Gbps applications is the creation of a merchant ecosystem that will supply transceiver/transponder developers as well as system houses with the basic building blocks for 100-Gbps designs. This theme extends, of course, to the transceiver/transponder developers themselves. The goal is to obviate the need for proprietary system designs that don’t leverage the potential industry-wide cost savings that merchant chips and modules can provide, as well as create a better chance for 100-Gbps interoperability.

Both the IEEE P802.3ba Task Force and the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) are doing their best to nurture these ecosystems. The Ethernet effort probably has a better chance to succeed, as despite the OIF’s good intentions, we’re already seeing companies such as Nortel, Ciena, and ADVA Optical Networking announce either their own variants of what the OIF is expected to specify or, in the case of ADVA, something completely different.

Needless to say, module vendors are not amused. “I can’t make a module for every customer ” a source at one module vendor told me. Similarly, silicon vendors can’t make a chip for every customer either. In both cases, product design is an expensive proposition, and the costs of these designs are expected to be spread out across sales to multiple customers. When system houses go their own way, there is no economy of scale and therefore no price reductions due to volume component sales that would make 100-Gbps technology more economical for carries to deploy.

Needless to say, system houses are in business to create differentiation and meet customer needs. If there’s a need now that merchant components aren’t ready to fulfill, equipment developers have no choice but to tackle the job themselves. Ciena’s announcement of a customer for its high-speed offering indicates we have reached that point with 100 Gbps.

But in being in an understandable hurry to be the first to market, system houses once again may be forcing the community at large to wait for a more economical path to success.

Stephen M. Hardy
Editorial Director
& Associate Publisher
stephenh@pennwell.com

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