Cable Tech

Ikanos Integrates DSL Chips

On the same day that Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) boasts of its DSL (digital subscriber line) market share (see Alcatel Adds to DSL Dominance), startup Ikanos Communications Inc. says it's working on a new product that could help Alcatel's competitors get the upper hand.

Ikanos has decided that the time is right to integrate ADSL (asymmetric DSL) and VDSL (very high-speed DSL) chipsets. Its previous product for the central office, SmartLeap 8100, supports both VDSL and EFM (Ethernet in the First Mile). SmartLeap 8800, which was announced today, is a programmable chipset that adds ADSL to the mix.

Alcatel's dominance hinges on two flavors of DSL -- ADSL and SDSL (symmetric DSL) -- and its leadership in these markets is due largely to the fact that it orginally developed its own chipsets. A couple of months ago, Alcatel sold its chipset business to STMicroelectronics NV (NYSE: STM), which became its preferred supplier (see STM, Alcatel Team on DSL).

Ikanos claims to be one of the leaders in the market for EFM and VDSL chipsets and has announced major customers all over the world, including Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd. and NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY) in Japan; Hyundai Networks Inc. in Korea; Zyxel Communications Co. in Taiwan; VDSL Systems Oy in Finland; and Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) and Turin Networks Inc. in the U.S.

Other vendors, such as Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: IFX), offer a different chipset for each technology type.

The products from other chip makers have different upsides. Infineon, for example, offers a chipset that integrates ADSL and voice capabilities, eliminating the need for splitters on the network side (see Alcatel Picks Infineon's DSL Chipset). And Broadcom says it is pushing integration at the line-card level, by putting all the memory, processor and interworking functions typically found on ADSL line cards into the chipset.

The Ikanos solution allows carriers to switch services with a software change. Moving toward VDSL, the tradeoff is generally higher speeds versus shorter distances. ADSL delivers up to 6 Mbit/s upstream (from the central office to the user) over distances of several kilometers, while VDSL reaches speeds of 26 Mbit/s over the much shorter distance of 50 meters. To deploy higher-speed services, the broadband access multiplexer is usually deployed from a remote terminal, bringing it closer to the customer, which makes the prospect of a truck roll even less desirable.

Some customers are willing to back Ikanos publicly. "Because the chips are programmable, we can effectively customize our line cards to suit the particular application demands of each carrier customer, and each deployment environment," says Jussi Mononen, CEO at VDSL Systems. "That kind of flexibility is a strong competitive advantage for us."

Mononen points out another advantage. "With no more development effort than it takes to build a single line card, we are able to offer multiple services for multiple applications and multiple worldwide markets," he says. In fact, the Ikanos chipset supports six different standards of DSL and Ethernet (and if you want to know what they are, see the company's Website).

Only time will tell if Ikanos can steal ADSL market share away from the likes of Broadcom and Infineon. The first hurdle is to get the chip into production, which should be early next year.

Ikanos was founded in 1999 by Behrooz Rezvani, who previously established Advanced Fibre Communications Inc. (AFC)'s (Nasdaq: AFCI) Fremont Design Center, where he managed the development of VDSL and ADSL-lite line cards. He is also editor of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) standard for Ethernet in the First Mile. Ikanos has raised $52 million to date (see Ikanos Rakes In $35M).

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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