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Optical/IP

SwitchCore Ships Chips Galore

Swedish chip maker SwitchCore AB (Stockholm: SCOR) is hoping to reclaim the lead it once held in Gigabit Ethernet switch chips with the new products it is introducing this week (see SwitchCore Packs 28 GigE Ports).

Three years ago SwitchCore was the first vendor to bring out a 16-port chip for Gigabit Ethernet switching, which it called the CXE-16. This device contains all the main functions required to make an Ethernet switch, enabling vendors to throw together Ethernet boxes quickly and cheaply. Sixteen ports was a major boost in density at the time.

SwitchCore has chalked up several big-name customers for its chips, such as Allied Telesyn Inc., 3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS), and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Further testimony to the success of the product comes from a reseller agreement with Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), which sells the CXE-16 under its own name, according to John Vigilante, SwitchCore's director of business development.

But three years is a long time. Other chip makers, like Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) and Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) have had plenty of chance to catch up and overtake SwitchCore's achievement. Both introduced 24-port devices this year (see Vitesse Courts GigE Market).

SwitchCore hasn't been resting on its laurels, says Vigilante [ed. note: Vigilantes never rest]. Getting its existing products through Intel's rigorous qualification process has kept the company busy. Simultaneously, engineers have been developing the next generation of chips with 28 ports under the brand name Xpeedium2, as well as support for the latest networking features such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and IPv6, which is important for addressing the Asian market.

Twenty-eight ports may sound like an odd number. In fact, it comprises 24 user ports of Gigabit Ethernet -- bringing SwitchCore in line with its competitors -- and four extra 10/100/1000 ports. These extra ports boost the overall performance by, for example, passing data to a network processor for exception processing.

First to ship in December will be the CXE-2130, which is a Layer 2/3/4 switch, and the CXE-2032, which is a Layer 2/4 switch. Compared to the earlier CXE-16, it contains various improvements, including the ability to support up to 1,024 classes of service -- making it possible to specify different QOS for individual customers, according to Vigilante.

Following in May 2004 will be the CXE-2230, which adds MPLS and IPv6 capabilities to the mix.

SwitchCore is also introducing a couple of chips aimed at enterprise applications with 24 Fast Ethernet ports and four Gigabit Ethernet ports, which provide a convenient way to hook up to an optical transport link. CXE-1100 will be ready first, followed next year by CX-E1200, which is the MPLS/IPv6 version.

Vigilante believes that the Fast Ethernet chips, rather than the more sexy Gigabit Ethernet parts, may hold the key to the company's fortunes. "Since the DSL aggregation market in Asia has taken off, we see our CXE-1000 numbers following suit," he says.

Despite SwitchCore's apparent success with its first generation of chips, it still has a tiny market share -- between 1 and 2 percent of Ethernet ports shipped, according to figures from Dell'Oro Group. Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) is the market leader, thanks to its dominance in Fast Ethernet.

The CXE-1100 is priced at $203, the CXE-2032 at $221 and the CXE-2130 at $458, all in sample quantities. Pricing is not currently available for the CXE-1200 and 2230 products. All products come in a 960-pin BGA package.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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