Comms chips

Optix Claims 40-Gig First

Startup Optix Networks Inc. is hoping to create a bit of a splash at the Supercomm 2002 show next week when it unveils what it claims is the industry's most advanced OC768 (40 Gbit/s) framer.

However, the fact that Optix has a product at all -- well, nearly -- is more noteworthy than the fact that it's purporting to be number one. To date, it appears that only one other vendor -- Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC) -- has announced a true single-chip OC768 framer (see AMCC Unveils Chips Galore).

Optix's chip, called the IDE40, aims right at the heart of future 40-Gbit/s systems. Every 40-Gbit/s line card shipped will need a framer chip like it, according to Shailendra Kumar, Optix's VP of business development.

Time to dig into the details. IDE40 has two modes. In the regenerator mode, it brings in an OC768 channel, cleans up the signal, and sends it out as OC768. It also allows the system to gather important information about performance monitoring. In multiplexing mode, the chip converts between one OC768 channel and four OC192s (10 Gbit/s).

AMCC's chip, called Pecos, appears to be similar, but has an additional function -- in multiplexing mode, it can combine 16 OC48 (2.5-Gbit/s) channels into an OC768, and vice versa.

Another key feature of both chips is that they support forward error correction (FEC) as defined by G.709, which is an integral part of the OTN standard (see the Beginner's Guide on Digital Wrappers and Forward Error Correction (FEC)). OTN was devised to support transparent optical crossconnects in the network (see Testing Time For Digital Wrappers). FEC improves the overall system performance, but to do so it requires the system to have a little extra bandwidth.

One of the key differentiators between Optix and AMCC, says Kumar, is that Optix's framer is the first to support SFI5 (SerDes Framer Interface 5) on the 40-Gig side and SFI4 on the 10-Gig side. This is a big deal, says Kumar, because it allows Optix's chip to make a glueless connection with other 10-Gbit/s framers.

SFI5 is a new standard that was ratified just a few months ago, so it had not been finalized when Optix began its development. "We did not want to wait for the standard," says Kumar. "So we put an embedded processor inside the chip." This allowed the company to modify aspects of the design to take into account the new standard -- and is probably the reason it managed to get a chip out so quickly.

Having the processor on board allows the chip to be upgraded, should standards change in the future. Furthermore, certain sections of the data overhead, such as the control channel, are customer specific, and the processor makes it possible to program these overheads.

Optix will be showing an evaluation board of the IDE40 at its Supercomm booth. Customers won't be able to get their hands on a finished product for a couple of months -- the final design for the chip is about to go to the foundry.

As for Optix itself, it has won $15M in funding so far and carries 40 employees, of which all but four are engineers. The startup gets by without any sales and marketing staff, thanks to a pretty cozy strategic alliance with TranSwitch Corp. (Nasdaq: TXCC) (see Optix, TranSwitch Team on 40 Gig).

Santanu Das, founder and CEO of TranSwitch, is also a founder and chairman of Optix. TranSwitch owns nearly 20 percent of Optix and will put its own label on the startup's product. In return, Optix will leverage the sales channel of the more established company and gain access to its foundry relationships.

The question now is whether TranSwitch will choose to spin in Optix. It has followed this strategy in the past with Onex Communications, investing just under 20 percent and then buying out the remaining shares when the company got to the point of announcing its technology (see TranSwitch Harvests Startup).

Mind you, since Onex was pulled into the TranSwitch fold, its product introduction has slipped several times. Originally planned for last October, there is currently no word on when the Onex product will finally see the light of day.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com For more information on Supercomm 2002, please visit: Supercomm Special

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