Startup moves to making high-performance Ethernet chips rather than simply designing them

January 21, 2002

4 Min Read
Mysticom Shifts Strategy

Jeremey Donovan, a principal analyst with Gartner Dataquest Inc., deserves a little pat on the back for what Mysticom Ltd. announced today.

Mysticom announced that it's going further than merely developing intellectual property for communications chips. It's also making the chips themselves, starting with a couple of Ethernet ones (see Mysticom Targets Ethernet).

Donovan predicted this way back in May 1999, when Mysticom introduced a 10/100 Ethernet PHY core (design). At the time, Donovan told EE Times: "A lot of the companies in the PHY business start out saying they are going to offer cores, [but] then they move to chips and eventually to boards. It will be interesting to follow this company and see where they are in a few years."

After Mysticom's 1999 announcement, it went on to notch up quite a few customer wins for its 10/100 Ethernet PHY core, including IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: IFX), Philips Semiconductors, and Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN).

But now, just as Donovan forecasted, it's decided to start selling chips directly to datacom equipment manufacturers. Mysticom intends to go head to head with companies like Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL), says its founder and CEO, David Almagor.

Being able to offer PHY chips spanning the full range of line speeds, from 10 Mbit/s up to 10 Gbit/s, as Broadcom and Marvell do, is a big advantage, according to Almagor. "There is a trend towards integrating multiple speeds on the same board," he says. "At the same time, systems vendors need to reduce the number of PHY vendors they qualify, because [qualification] takes a long time."

Mysticom announced its first two integrated circuits today: a 1-Gbit/s Ethernet PHY, MY1001, and a 10-gigabit Ethernet PHY, MY3004, which also serves as a backplane transceiver.

In the fullness of time, the company plans to offer higher levels of integration, both by putting more ports on the same chip, and by moving to higher layers of processing (PHY being Layer 1), says Almagor.

Coming back to the present, Mysticom is going to face some stiff competition, and not just from Broadcom and Marvell. The 10-gig space is very hotly contested, with companies like Mindspeed Technologies, and Velio Communications Inc. also having strong products (see Mindspeed Claims SerDes Superiority and Velio Cleans Up).

Mysticom obviously thinks it can succeed, and so do its investors, which include Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). In total, investors have coughed up $84 million in four rounds of financing, the most recent being $28 million in October 2001 (see Mysticom Conjures Up $28M).

According to Almagor, Mysticom's strength is its "all digital technology". This doesn't actually mean that there are no analog parts on the chip; it means that the number of analog parts is kept to a minimum. For example, he claims that other vendors use either five or eight PLLs (phase locked loops) on their backplane transceivers, whereas Mysticom only has one. The upshot is better performance, lower power, and a technology that's easier to port to new silicon process technologies when required.

The 10-gig part, MY3004, consumes 200 mW per channel, or less than 1.1 W overall. This does appear to makes it one of the lowest-power backplane transceivers, although exact comparisons are tricky, since chip makers often quote power in different ways (see BitBlitz Pushes Partnership Program).

Velio's VP of marketing, Bill Woodruff, previously told Light Reading that there are two ways to compete in the backplane transceiver market -- on performance and on features. And on paper, it appears that Mysticom is trying to compete on both counts.

In terms of performance, the MY3004 is unique in offering both pre-emphasis and receive-end equalization to make sure the signal is received without errors after it has traveled over the backplane. What's more, Mysticom claims to be the first vendor to offer software that will automatically adjust the values of the transmitter and receiver in real time.

In terms of features, the MY3004 implements the latest version of the 10-gigabit Ethernet standard, version 3.4, giving it an advantage over older parts. It can also support different framing protocols, including InfiniBand, Fibre Channel, and user-defined modes. And finally, it offers "flexible clocking" to make it easier to connect the chip to upstream devices on the board.

Whether these claims stand up to scrutiny will only be seen when the parts start being tested by customers. The 1-Gbit/s part should start sampling this month, while the 10-Gbit/s part is slated to sample in March. MY3004 is priced at $85 in quantities of 1000.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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