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Year in Review: Ethernet Accelerates as Wireless Slows

January 17, 2017

Author: Bob Wheeler

As many companies digested 2015 acquisitions, business mergers slowed in 2016. Instead, vendors refocused on delivering new products, particularly for data-center networks. Another market garnering attention was IoT, with low-power wireless modems seeing the most activity. Next-generation cellular technology, 5G, climbed the hype curve.

Incumbents Broadcom and Marvell each introduced multiple new Ethernet switch chips in 2016. The former primarily addressed public clouds and carrier networks, whereas the latter focused on private clouds and enterprise networks. Barefoot Networks joined the ranks of 100GbE switch-chip vendors, and Cavium brought its first such chip to production. Using FinFET technology, Barefoot and Broadcom unveiled the industry’s first 6.4Tbps switch chips.

Ethernet PHY vendors laid the groundwork for PAM4 deployments, first at 50Gbps per lane but with 100Gbps per lane close behind. Interestingly, chipmakers addressed applications ranging from 3m server-access links to 80km data-center interconnects (DCIs). Server-adapter (NIC) vendors introduced a wide variety of products for 25GbE and 100GbE. Consolidation hit the server-connectivity market as Cavium acquired QLogic, which sells both Fibre Channel HBAs and Ethernet NICs.

LTE build-outs are complete or slowing in many regions, so wireless operators and suppliers delivered new IoT products and services while developing 5G prototypes in 2016. The 3GPP completed work on LTE categories optimized for battery-powered IoT devices, providing a low-bandwidth replacement for aging 2G technology. Operators pushed for rapid progress on 5G technology; vendors announced development platforms and preannounced modem chips.

Whereas China’s LTE deployment is winding down, its data centers are growing rapidly. At the same time, 2017 will undoubtedly see changes in U.S.-China trade relations. These changes could affect U.S. vendors hoping to capitalize on the growing Chinese market as well as Chinese companies looking to expand through acquisitions.

Subscribers can view the full article in the Microprocessor Report.

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