Comms chips

Aquantia Gets out of the 10-Gig Gate

Another chip startup is joining the race to provide 10-Gbit/s Ethernet over copper.

Founded early in 2004, Aquantia Corp. isn't officially talking about its funding. But previous reports have noted the company raised $12 million recently from investors including megafoundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) (NYSE: TSM). Venture investors include Lightspeed Venture Partners, Greylock Partners, and Venture Tech Alliance.

Aquantia has an office in Milpitas, Calif., but the company started out homeless, in classic Silicon Valley fashion. "The lobby at the Westin Hotel was great, because they mistook us for guests and gave us free coffee. And we got free wireless," says Bill Woodruff, Aquantia's vice president of marketing.

Aquantia joins a pool of chip startups working on various forms of 10-Gbit/s over copper, including KeyEye Communications Inc., Quake Technologies Inc., SolarFlare Communications Inc., Teranetics Inc., and Vativ Technologies Inc. Of course, heavy hitters Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), (Nasdaq: INTC), and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) are interested, too.

Pings to the competition revealed no details about Aquantia, but it's reasonable to bet that the company's expertise lies in signal conditioning. Electronic signals get distorted by the combination of high speeds and long distances, and engineers have been developing techniques to ensure those signals get received accurately as zeroes and ones.

This isn't necessarily a penny-ante technology; SolarFlare raised $48 million early this year, bringing its funding total to $78 million. (See Solarflare Raises $48M.)

Aquantia CEO Phil Delansay hails from Lightera, which was acquired by Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN) in 1999. Chief architect Ramin Farjad was a founder of another signal-tweaking specialist, Velio Communications, which was acquired in pieces by LSI Logic Corp. (NYSE: LSI) and Rambus Inc. (Nasdaq: RMBS). (See LSI Snares Velio and Rambus Buys Velio's Serial Biz.)

The hottest 10-Gbit/s copper craze is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) 802.3an standard, also called 10GBase-T, which members say is on track for ratification in June. Note that this technology is for the LAN -- 100 meter distances -- rather than for long-distance telco uses; nobody's talking about 10-Gbit/s Ethernet to your house yet (sorry).

Another 10-Gbit/s copper standard -- 802.3ak, or CX4 -- has been ratified, but it uses InfiniBand cable and covers a shorter distance. "The gold standard for the LAN is 100 meters," says Bruce Tolley, director of marketing for SolarFlare. (See 10-GigE Copper Heats Up.)

By contrast, 10GBase-T covers 100 meters on augmented Category 6 cable and 55 meters on regular Cat 6, Tolley says. Some 802.3an members were proposing another version to cover even shorter distances, aiming to provide a lower-power option, but "they didn't have enough votes to go to the next stage," Tolley says.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 2:51:14 AM
re: Aquantia Gets out of the 10-Gig Gate What is is about this stuff that's attracted so many startups?

OK, granted, startups germinate around anything new. But it's almost like there's something very appealing about the engineering -- or something fundamental that hasn't been solved/perfected yet.

Maybe there's just a lot of university research in signal processing. One problem, lots of possible answers, the way network processors were for a while.

Or maybe it's the allure of a possible Broadcom/Rambus acquisition, if your engineering is good enough?
curiousgeorge 12/5/2012 | 2:51:11 AM
re: Aquantia Gets out of the 10-Gig Gate Craig

If you are looking for a story: here's a tip.
There's more to the "didnt have the votes" comment. Find out what happened at the IEEE SA plenary last month to the CFI on a 30m 10GbE copper standard.

sigint 12/5/2012 | 2:51:08 AM
re: Aquantia Gets out of the 10-Gig Gate Craig:
But it's almost like there's something very appealing about the engineering -- or something fundamental that hasn't been solved/perfected yet.

This is a pertinent observation. 10 Gig over copper, for any meaningful distance of transmission, does push the limits defined by Shannon. This is a profoundly interesting problem to any EE.

However, given that most LANs are still at 100 Mbits and adoption of even Gig rates has been rather tardy in the enterprise, I doubt that a serious business case exsists.

Perhaps, these could be a viable replacement for fiber patch-cords for stacking switches or interconnecting servers in a datacom centre. Or, maybe this technology could be used for increased bandwidth on equipment back-planes.
sigint 12/5/2012 | 2:51:08 AM
re: Aquantia Gets out of the 10-Gig Gate Unlike what the article claims, Intel has all but exited the ethernet space, except for the Gig Controllers to be found on mother boards.

The Ethernet Switch Operations are gone, and the phy division is likely on its way to oblivion. I think the company pays lip service to ethernet, as it happened to be one of the invntors. As a business, it's curtains.
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