Vitesse Softens XFP Prices

Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) is hoping to drive down the prices of XFP modules for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, offering a set of chips that could make a $300 XFP module possible.

Vitesse now claims to offer every chip needed for an XFP module, with six chips introduced today: a transimpedance amplifier (TIA), a signal conditioner, and four types of laser drivers (see Vitesse Intros Chipset for 10 Gig).

The signal conditioner is the most innovative of the parts, because it operates in both the transmit and receive directions, says Richard Interrante, engineering group manager for Vitesse. Normally, a separate signal conditioner is used for each direction.

Collectively called XFP PRO, the new chips can be provided to customers for less than $50, which goes a long way towards the industry's goal of a $300 XFP transponder. As usual in the chip world, the whole idea behind Vitesse's offering is to further commoditize XFP, turning it into "more of a manufacturing exercise," Interrante says.

XFP prices have dropped quickly thanks to competition, and prices for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet are going down in general, with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) recently announcing products bringing the technology to less than $4,000 per port (see 10-GigE Price Drops Continue and XFP Prices Plummet.) While vendors don't disclose exact XFP prices, it's clear that the going rate is much more than $300 per module.

A $300 XFP module "would be a pretty significant reduction from where things are right now," says one module-vendor executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I think there are a lot of people aiming for that goal. If you can get a laser driver, a TIA, and a CDR all for under $50, you're definitely on your way to achieving that goal."

Still, it's not a slam dunk; The executive notes that the optics are still costly, particularly if an OEM needs Sonet-qualified components.

Vitesse appears to be leading the pack in terms of bringing the chip prices down, the module exec says. Quake Technologies Inc. is among the few companies that even offers the same variety of chips for XFP modules. In many other cases, vendors don't supply the optical chips such as the TIA, but do provide the serial retimer and clock-and-data-recovery chip, a key element that takes the role of a serializer-deseserializer (SerDes) in other 10-Gbit/s module types such as Xenpak.

Vitesse already offers such a chip, as do Gennum Corp. (Toronto: GND), Phyworks Ltd., Quake, Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), and Vitesse.

Vitesse's chips are drawing interest from some incumbents working on later revisions of XFP modules. "They've encountered a problem or are running into customer issues," Interrante says.

But they could also offer a headstart to anyone designing a module, as Vitesse has prepared a full reference design using the chips. Such a headstart would be key to any new companies hoping to get into the XFP game, because the competition is everywhere. Vendors that have announced XFP modules include:

The XFP PRO chips and a reference design, which are shipping now, aim for a 1310 nm XFP module with a 10 km reach. Vitesse expects to launch reference designs for 40km and 80km reaches in the fourth quarter of 2004, followed by a short-reach (300m) version for 850nm lasers in 2005.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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