A chip delay will force OEMs to push out Gigabit Ethernet network deployment another five months, opening the door for the rival fiber-optics camp.
Technical issues with the physical-layer (PHY) IC-the chip responsible for transmitting data over local- and wide-area networks-will prevent suppliers from shipping the devices on schedule, according to industry sources and analysts.
As a result, the IEEE Standards Board will not ratify the IEEE 802.3ab standard for Gigabit Ethernet networks running over copper until at least September, according to officials from the Gigabit Ethernet Alliance (GEA), Mountain View, Calif.
"The standard is finished, but we're now processing the red tape," said Bob Crow, vice chairman of the GEA.
Broadcom Corp. and Level One Communications Inc. had planned to ship their respective Gigabit Ethernet PHY ICs by late 1998 or early this year. However, the companies have delayed delivery schedules for technical reasons, according to Allen Leibovitch, an analyst with International Data Corp., Mountain View, Calif. "It looks like [Broadcom and Level One] have pushed out their shipment schedules to June or July," he said. "It's a lot harder to develop these devices than they had originally expected."
Broadcom said it plans to ship its Gigabit Ethernet PHY IC later this year, but the company did not elaborate.
The chip "is working extremely well in the lab, but the verification phase will take several weeks," said Yossi Cohen, director of marketing for the Network Business Unit of Broadcom, Irvine, Calif.
Sacramento, Calif.-based Level One-which is in the process of being acquired by Intel Corp.-declined to comment on the status of its PHY IC for Gigabit Ethernet networks.
In the meantime, there are still no PHY ICs on the market that support the pending IEEE 802.3ab standard, which will enable Gigabit Ethernet networks to run over existing Category 5 unshielded twisted-pair (UTP-5) copper cable, eliminating the need to upgrade to other cabling schemes.
These chip delays, coupled with last-minute changes in the 802.3ab standard, could stunt the overall growth of the Gigabit Ethernet hardware market, whose penetration into additional applications has already been limited due to cost.
The Gigabit Ethernet market is projected to grow from $19.8 million in 1998 to $1.36 billion by 2001, according to Dataquest Inc., San Jose.
The market remains promising for backbone applications, but not for the desktop, Leibovitch said. "There's no need for Gigabit for the desktop, because Fast Ethernet is so cheap," he said.
Fiber is the only alternative medium that supports Gigabit Ethernet networks. But the technology is more costly and less pervasive than existing copper wiring; therefore, Gigabit
Ethernet has been limited to the backbone and has yet to infiltrate the much larger desktop market.
The product delays, however, have widened the opportunity for suppliers that manufacture PHY ICs or transceivers that support Gigabit Ethernet over fiber-including AMP, Applied Micro Circuits, Blaze Network Products, Cielo, Hewlett-Packard, and Vitesse Semiconductor-to capitalize on the emerging market.
It's difficult to develop PHY ICs for Gigabit Ethernet networks running over copper, according to Brian Peters, president of Blaze Network Products Inc., a Dublin, Calif.-based supplier of fiber-optic transceivers for Gigabit Ethernet networks.
"When you're dealing with Gigabit networks over Category 5, there are a lot of issues concerning noise and crosstalk," he said.