Staging a comeback in the physical-layer-IC market, National Semiconductor Corp. this week will come out fighting with a chip designed for Gigabit Ethernet networks running over copper.
Based on a recently acquired DSP technology, the new Gig PHYTER chip supports three network operations-Ethernet (10 Mbits/s), Fast Ethernet (100 Mbits/s), and Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 Mbits/s)-on the same device.
The PHY will give OEMs a welcome alternative in the fledgling Gigabit Ethernet segment, which could help lower the overall cost of building a network, National said.
Until now, Broadcom Corp. was the only supplier shipping a PHY IC for Gigabit Ethernet networks running over copper. Lucent Technologies Inc. and Level One Communications Inc., a subsidiary of Intel Corp., are separately working on similar devices but have yet to ship product, sources said.
Apparently, National has beaten some of its major competitors to the punch in the high-end PHY-IC market-with plans to give the leader a run for its money.
"I think we're very close to Broadcom in terms of our competitive position," said Shahriar Agahian, marketing manager at Santa Clara, Calif.-based National.
Indeed, National is poised for a major comeback in the LAN-chip arena, noted Sean Lavey, an analyst at International Data Corp., Mountain View, Calif.
At one time, the company was the dominant PHY supplier, with its two-chip Fast Ethernet solution designed into virtually every Ethernet switch, Lavey said. But when Broadcom and Level One emerged with single-chip, multiport PHYs, National's hold on the market slipped, and the company has never recovered its position.
In 1998, National still held more than 60% of the single-port 10/100 PHY market by revenue. In the quad-port arena-where the real action is-National's share is less than 10%, according to Lavey.
In an attempt to recapture what it lost, National two years ago acquired little-known ComCore Semiconductor Inc., a DSP-based PHY-IC specialist, for $122 million. Last year, National bore the first fruits from the acquisition by rolling out separate single-port PHY-IC and integrated controller/PHY chips for use in Fast Ethernet networks.
The market for Gigabit Ethernet equipment is projected to grow from $270 million in 1998 to $1.45 billion by 2001, according to In-Stat Group, Scottsdale, Ariz.
National's new chip, the DP83891 Gig PHYTER, is a low-cost, single-chip solution designed for use in network-interface cards, switches, and other network equipment.
The chip is sampling for $55 in 1,000-unit lots, and will enter production next month.
Additional reporting by Crista Souza.