Infineon Preps RPR Chip
The Frea chip, targeting speeds up to OC192, has a bypass mode that turns the chip into a plain packet-over-Sonet framer, allowing the service provider to migrate channels to RPR one at a time. Frea is due to sample in July, with general availability slated for the third quarter at volume prices of $645 apiece.
Back in 2000, many supporters saw RPR as a chance to run pure Ethernet traffic on rings, supplanting Sonet entirely. But some -- equipment vendor Corrigent Systems Inc. in particular -- have always pitched a Sonet-minded vision for RPR, and that angle is getting a lot of visibility heading into next month's Supercomm 2003 tradeshow.
The Resilient Packet Ring Alliance, for example, has published a business case outlining the costs of adding RPR to fractions of a Sonet network. Where RPR was originally touted as a way to use bandwidth more efficiently, the Alliance's business plan emphasizes the capital and operational savings that RPR presents, even when compared with next-generation Sonet.
Some think the "RPR" designation itself might give way to the more Sonet-minded "Packet Add/Drop Multiplexer" (see Scott Clavenna's latest column: RPR’s New Guise: The Packet ADM). The RPR Alliance isn't ready to go quite that far; in fact, members expect to prepare a greenfield business case to accompany the Sonet-minded one, says John Hawkins, senior marketing manager with Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT).
Most RPR fans have come from the data-transport world rather than strict telecom -- that is, from an Ethernet point of view rather than Sonet. But the CLEC shakeout has left Sonet players as the dominant market force. Luckily, RPR has its fans among Sonet providers, and it's for them that Infineon included the packet-over-Sonet option, says Srinivas Nimmagadda(!), marketing director for Infineon's optical networking group.
"If I look at the transport side of the world, what would they have to do with RPR? Immediately, probably not a lot," Nimmagadda says. "But they may take one or two channels per slot and move them to RPR. So if you look at the traditional telecom players, there are discussions about how they can carry RPR."
The chip can also support the Spatial Reuse Protocol, the pre-standard version of RPR developed by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). Infineon had previously built an SRP chip called Rhea, which is being used in some of Cisco's GSR 12000s, Nimmagadda says.
Certainly the excitement over RPR has dimmed, compared with 2001. At least one system-level RPR player, Dynarc, has gone belly up (see Dynarc Files for Bankruptcy), and it hasn't been plain-sailing for others. Luminous Networks Inc. endured cutbacks recently, and Lantern Communications Inc. is hoping a new executive team can keep the fire burning (see Luminous Cuts Away and Lantern Changes Its Bulb).
The malaise has spread to the chip side. As companies such as Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) and Mindspeed Technologies trimmed R&D costs last year, RPR didn't make the cut. "The usual suspects kind of decided to put the development on hold," Nimmagadda says.
Cortina Systems appears to be the only RPR chip specialist remaining. Chip Engines was acquired by Alliance Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: ALSC) (see Chip Engines Drives Toward RPR). There's also Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC), which supports RPR through its Tiber OC48 chip (see AMCC Unleashes Tiber).
Alliance is planning to sample the Chip Engines chip in "September or October," says Robert Napaa, vice president of marketing and business development. Cortina didn't return a phone call but is expected to be present at Supercomm, possibly as part of an RPR "super demo" sponsored by the IEC.
Frea might also see competition from other quarters. "There are also customers out there -- and you might see announcements at Supercomm. You can buy a box from them today and put a network processor in, not a dedicated device," Nimmagadda says. "So competition comes from those."
Even though most equipment vendors have made their choices of RPR chips, most will still be interested in Frea and other commercial offerings. "It's a technology where you'd like to get merchant silicon eventually," says Raj Sharma, Luminous senior director [ed. note: he glows?] of architectures and technology.
Until now, Luminous has used its own media access controller (MAC) based on programmable hardware, for flexibility. "With an emerging protocol [like RPR], we realized there were going to be some curves in the road," Sharma says.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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