Agilent Unleashes Serial Killer
For some, news of a new testing tool for R&D use may fall on indifferent ears. But as the market leader, Agilent's choices in the test equipment market are bellwethers of customer demand. And this news signals the growing importance of high-speed data technologies to the telecom and datacom markets.
Specifically, Agilent's aiming its new N4901A Serial BERT at makers of all kinds of networking gear based on higher-speed serial transmission techniques, such as HyperTransport and RapidIO (see Dueling Interconnects Unmasked).
These approaches move packets in and out of network processors and chips in multifunction devices using serial technology, as opposed to parallel. Eventually, Agilent says, serial techniques will supersede other approaches in networking gear.
Agilent's tester, which replaces its older 71612 analyzer, monitors and reports on the electrical characteristics of components and subsystems, such as line cards, that use serial transmission. Prospective users include makers of Fibre Channel switches, 10-Gbit/s Ethernet switches and routers, and next-gen Sonet gear. Aimed at R&D labs and early-stage manufacturing setups, the NP4901A is strictly a physical-layer tester, so the specific protocol involved doesn't matter.
Agilent says testers are needed that don't just run as fast as the transmission kit they're supposed to test, but can run faster in order to accommodate extra forward error correction and overhead. The new tester's also got a range of key features, Agilent claims, including: jitter testing; performance testing of both positive and negative electronic signals simultaneously; and tracking of embedded clock data recovery in high-speed signals. Results are displayed in eye-diagrams.
Agilent believes these features that will set its box apart from others. So far, those "others" comprise an elite group that makes serial BERTs, including Anritsu Corp. and EXFO Electro-Optical Engineering Inc. (Nasdaq: EXFO; Toronto: EXF). Calls to both vendors and visits to their Websites, though, failed to turn up much detail. Anritsu does have a tester that supports 12.5 Gbit/s, but specifics on how its features stack up against Agilent's weren't available at press time.
The competition may have plenty of time to get their stakes in the ground. Agilent's tester won't ship until August or September. And, while it's supposed to be available for demonstration this summer, it won't make it to the Supercomm 2003 tradeshow in June.
Despite this, Agilent says customers are lining up for the new serial BERT. "They don't care about price, they just want to know it's coming," says Siegfried Gross, VP and general manager of the Digital Verification Solutions Division at Agilent.
Behind demand, he says, is the need for increased data bandwidth, which hasn't disappeared despite the downturn. "The need for bandwidth is still there," he says. "And it will go on until the Internet becomes a global computing and communications network."
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading