Comms chips

Big Bear Hunts 10GigE Market

After a couple of years in relative hibernation, Big Bear Networks is emerging this week with a keystone of its new strategy: a 10-Gbit/s Ethernet transponder module with an 80 kilometer reach.

The module, called the BBTR1024-Z1, showcases Big Bear's chip for electronic dispersion compensation (EDC), which helps clean up a high-speed signal, allowing the creation of longer links. Big Bear has been developing its own EDC technology, called Photronic Signal Processing (PSP) (see Big Bear Targets 10GigE).

Big Bear is stressing a particular angle on EDC: interoperability. Because most 80km modules don't include EDC, it takes some tuning to create a decipherable signal at 10-Gbit/s. "Everybody basically optimized their transmitter for their own receiver," says John Jaeger, vice president of product management. Industrywide interoperability efforts within the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) stalled, he adds. "In 80km fiber-optic links there is no interoperability today, and the Sonet guys just put up with it."

This was tolerable in the Sonet/SDH world but will be a showstopper for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, as even carriers are counting on the simplicity of Ethernet, which has always included the ability to mix and match vendors, Jaeger says.

A lot will depend on the way metro Ethernet networks get built, however. In Sonet/SDH, it's an "almost metaphysical certainty" that a carrier will install the same optics on both ends of a link, says Neil Neslusan, director of product marketing of Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC). "The dirty little secret about optical systems is that they're closed. People talk about being able to connect a Nortel device and a Ciena device, but that rarely happens."

Competition on the 80km router side is just getting started. The 802.3ae standard for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet includes 10GBase-LR and 10GBase-ER standards for 10 and 40km reaches, respectively, but Big Bear is targeting the emerging 10GBase-ZR standard for 80km links on singlemode fiber.

Few others have staked out that territory. Optillion AB produced a ZR transponder just before Supercomm last month. In February, Bookham Technology plc (Nasdaq: BKHM; London: BHM) and Finisar Corp. (Nasdaq: FNSR) produced 80km transponders supporting 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, although neither mentioned the ZR standard at the time (see Optillion Adds New 10-Gig Transceivers, Finisar Gets XFP Happy, and XFP No Longer a BFD).

Big Bear's transponder, which conforms to the Xenpak multiservice agreement (MSA), is shipping for beta testing and should be ready for production by year's end.

The EDC chip itself has been shipping for about nine months, mostly to systems houses whose optics don't conform to a particular MSA, Jaeger says.

AMCC is one of several companies that compete with Big Bear on the EDC chip front. Others include Kodeos Communications Inc., Mitsubishi Electric Corp. (Tokyo: 6503), Phyworks Ltd., and Scintera Networks Inc.

Founded in 2000, Big Bear has had to claw its way to the market. The company started life as a 40-Gbit/s glamor story, but as that business lost its warm fuzzy feeling, Big Bear looked into options including signal-conditioning technology and downshifting the modules business to 10-Gbit/s (see Big Bear Comes Out of the Woods and Big Bear Promises Picnic).

The company did produce a 40-Gbit/s transponder named Kodiak, which has been shipping for about a year, mostly into the tester market (see Ample, Big Bear Team on 40-Gig).

Along the way the company has raised $78 million in funding, including an $18 million round in November. Investors include Accel Partners, Austin Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Oak Investment Partners, and Sequoia Capital (see Big Bear Hugs $40M and Big Bear Cuddles Up With $18M). Big Bear employs about 50 people, half of them chip engineers.

Big Bear's future plans include a 10-Gbit/s transponder for 300-meter reach on multimode fiber, a market also served by the LX4 standard. Vendors have been discussing an EDC-based alternative to LX4 for some time, and efforts to standardize the EDC approach are underway with the IEEE 802.3aq task force (see IEEE Eyeballs Compensation and Vendors Still Driving LX4). Big Bear also intends to produce a DWDM version of the 80km transponder using 100GHz spacing, a product that would appear to compete with Finisar's 80km module.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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deauxfaux 12/5/2012 | 1:28:19 AM
re: Big Bear Hunts 10GigE Market Along with the VCs that gave them $78M and 3 years. There is just no volume at 80km, and at 300m, Scintera leads the pack.
Balet 12/5/2012 | 1:24:22 AM
re: Big Bear Hunts 10GigE Market With Scintera $500 a chip pricing, how can anyone compete with LX4 solution and meet Cisco's price targets for 10 GbE solution?
baggi 12/5/2012 | 1:22:25 AM
re: Big Bear Hunts 10GigE Market For sure, the price for the chip can not be $500 for volumes exceeding 100,000 units or even 100 units.

I thought all major module vendors had moved away from LX4. Do you know if any LX-4 vendor is reaching Cisco's price target and achieves positive margin?
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