G.fast Chip Startup Raises $10M

Israeli semiconductor startup Sckipio has gained $10 million in funding to speed the development and deployment of chips for new G.fast broadband modems.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) just completed work on the G.fast standard, which supports 1 Gbit/s speeds over copper phone lines at a range of up to 250 meters. So Sckipio is now coming out of stealth mode to promote its own G.fast solution. Michael Weissman, vice president of marketing for Sckipio, told Light Reading that the company believes the first G.fast modems will arrive in 2014.

The initial investors in Sckipio include Gemini Ventures, Genesis Partners , Amiti Capital, and Aviv Ventures. The company, which was founded in January 2012 by former executives from chipmaker CopperGate (which was sold to Sigma Designs Inc. (Nasdaq: SIGM)), currently has about 25 employees.

The G.fast standard has the potential to help telecom companies counter the top cable broadband speeds made possible by DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1 technologies. G.fast requires carriers to drive fiber deeper into their networks than many have in the past, but the option is still far less expensive than running fiber all the way to the home. Telcos can pull fiber to a distribution point near a consumer residence and then use G.fast over the last stretch of copper phone lines to deliver gigabit speeds.

"The solution that a lot of people have been going towards is fiber to the home, and the challenge with fiber to the home is it is very expensive to deliver to the home," Weissman said, noting that it can "easily add up to well over a thousand dollars per subscriber."

In contrast, Sckipio says it can slash the cost to deploy "fiber-like" speeds by as much as 90 percent. That would presumably bring the cost down to $100 to $200 per subscriber.

Weissman said that G.fast improves network performance by using DSL-like vectoring to eliminate cross-talk. He said G.fast also offers flexibility to network operators, allowing them to choose the upstream and downstream speeds they want to deliver -- symmetrical or asymmetrical.

Because the standard was just completed and hasn't even been officially announced by the ITU yet, there are no G.fast products on the market today. But that hasn't stopped companies from trying out pre-standard versions of the technology. For example, BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) said recently that it's testing out Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. 's pre-G.fast solution in its research and development center near Ipswich, UK.

Unlike Sckipio, Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) has not been very forthcoming about its G.fast plans. But the chip giant will undoubtedly join the fray in the coming months. (See BT Trials Huawei's G.fast for FTTx.)

Meanwhile, Sckipio says its engineers contributed more than 20 percent of the work to the new G.fast standard, and Weissman noted that the company is solely focused on G.fast technology. While Sckipio won't share the names of its potential modem hardware partners, Weissman noted that his firm's team has worked with all of the major vendors in the past and continues to maintain those relationships.

G.fast is backed by top telecom operators globally, including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Orange (NYSE: FTE), and Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT). In a press release, Oliver Johnson, CEO of the research firm Point Topic Ltd. , said, “G.fast is the best hope for telcos to affordably deliver 1Gbps to consumers. We expect G.fast to be broadly deployed quickly because telcos need an effective alternative to cable and G.fast appears to have everything these telcos need to succeed.”

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading Cable

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