An Intel-backed firm and a cast of ex-Alloptic execs are both vying for Ethernet PON attention

June 12, 2003

4 Min Read
Chip Startups Bank on EPON

Two chip startups are revealing plans for Ethernet passive optical networks (EPONs), both with an eye toward the Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM) standard. Both are just starting to get products out, though, and neither one is very talkative about it yet.

Both Passave Inc. and Teknovus Inc. have been active in the standard, formally labeled 802.3ah by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE), and Passave founder and president Ariel Maislos is editor for the EPON piece of the standard. More formally, it's called the "point-to-multipoint" piece, referring to a PON's splitting of one wavelength among several end users (see First-Mile Ethernet Enters Home Stretch and PONs: Passive Aggression).

(Pronunciations for both companies are a bit odd, by the way. Teknovus puts the accent on the second syllable: tek-NO-vus. And Passave is a cross between a tropical fruit and a Mexican appetizer: puh-SAH-vay.)

Of course, PONs are a familiar sight by now, and on the EPON side, familiar names, including Alloptic Inc. and Salira Optical Network Systems Inc., have products out (see Alloptic Scores $35M). So, what do these chip companies expect to contribute?

Passave's plans, revealed earlier this week, involve a classic chip-integration play. The company says it can compact the major functions of a PON box into a single chip, presumably saving OEMs time and design effort (see Passave Launches EPON Chip).

Passave's PAS6001 chip handles the intelligence needed at an optical network unit (ONU), the box at or near the customer premises that converts between optical and electronic signals. The chip does things like convert the light into the appropriate protocols (Ethernet, ATM, etc.), apply or decipher encryption, and organize the TDM-based upstream flow of traffic.

These functions would normally be handled by an FPGA combined with something like a network processor, but Passave is claiming to have packed it all into its single-purpose chip.

It's going to be a while before Passave has any market impact, as the PAS6001 began sampling a few months ago. "It hasn't been tested in the field yet, just in the lab," Maislos says, adding that volume production should begin "in several weeks."

A second chip, due to ship later this year, will target the optical line terminal (OLT) that resides in the central office. Maislos wouldn't give any details on the chip or its shipping schedule.

To weather the storm, two-year-old Passave raised a $7.2 million round from BRM Capital, EuroFund Partners and Walden Israel, among others (see Passave Grabs $7M). Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) is an investor, too (see Intel Invests in Passave), as is Ray Strata, chairman of Analog Devices Inc. (NYSE: ADI), but Maislos says he's "not permitted" to discuss Analog's interest in his company.The company's roots are in Israel, where its founders worked for the Electronic Research Department of the Israel Defense Forces. Passave's R&D remains in Israel, while the corporate headquarters are in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Teknovus, meanwhile, announced its technology in December but is being coy otherwise. CEO Gerry Pesavento declined to talk for this story, saying his company would have more substantial news around the end of June.

Teknovus is kind of a supergroup of PON executives. Pesavento and chief technical officer J.C. Kuo were founders of Alloptic, while VP of engineering Ed Boyd comes from Terawave Communications, yet another PON vendor.

Founded in Petaluma, Calif., in January 2002, Teknovus started with $1 million from NEC Electronics Corp. and quickly picked up a $5 million first round from investors led by Partech International and U.S. Venture Partners (see Teknovus Grabs $5M).

The company's EthernetPlus chips, announced in December, pack T1/E1 traffic onto Ethernet. But they don't do it by packetizing the traffic, which is what you'd expect. Instead, they let TDM circuits coexist out-of-band with Ethernet, meaning the TDM rides in the overhead and not inside Ethernet frames (see Teknovus Delivers Chipset).

The application would be to allow EPONs to hook up with legacy data services. Teknovus has already said Allied Telesyn Inc. and The TTC Group have qualified EthernetPlus, but there's no word yet on when the chips will be generally available.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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