I’ve heard a hat trick of power problems this week. In 10G Ethernet, signaling and modeling—everywhere you turn—power is increasingly a key constraint.
A chief technologist at Solarflare wrote a somewhat rambling treatise that concludes there is no power budget for running TCP offload on 10Gbit Ethernet chips for the foreseeable future. That’s a somewhat self-serving conclusion, but at least he was specific about the numbers.
TOE-enabled chips will consume about 16W in 130nm or 10W in 65nm—two hot for 2008-class dual-ported products, he said. By contrast, chips that push the TCP stack to a host CPU will dissipate 5 and 4W respectively in 130 and 65nm technology, he said. If anybody wants to take issue with those numbers, let’s have at it. iWarp people, sound off!
Separately, HP fellow Terry Morris said the DesignCon organizers spent much of their time trying to figure out how to cover the hot topic of co-design to handle the increasing merger of power, signaling and timing issues for chip, board and systems engineers. Power effects at multi-gigabit speeds have to be part of the design analysis and there are no standard tools to do this, he said. EDA vendors, whatcha got to say about those beans?
Last but not least I heard Grant Martin, chief scientist at Tensilica, today say that one of the big issues in the new virtual prototyping style of design is a lack of energy models.
"We are much farther behind in this area," Martin said. "We have done some things with energy modeling for our devices at Tensilica, but you really need to know about the energy models for other devices in a system—so we need lots of friends," he added.
OK, so go sign up as friends at Grant’s MySpace page, and let’s get an industry consortium going on this issue, too.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
I’ve heard a hat trick of power problems this week. In 10G Ethernet, signaling and modeling—everywhere you turn—power is increasingly a key constraint.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Sprint is giving 230 people in the San Francisco area cellphones equipped with near-field communications chips as part of a new service trial. Participants will be able to automatically buy tickets for the local mass transit system and pay for food at Jack in the Box fast food joints using NFC.
Users will be able to forget about subway tickets as long as they have their phone in their pocket. They will also be able to waive the phone in front of Jack in the Box smart ads in the subway station to get directions to the nearest outlet.
I suspect participants in the four-month trial will find it a fun novelty, but building a more interesting eco-system is the big issue. The people who use the latest cellphone features are not typically mass transit riders ordering fries at Jack in the Box.
Surely Sprint can learn a few things from these 230 users who will spread the word to others about NFC. But the road to making it interesting to use your phone in place of your debit/credit card is easy to see and hard to pave. Sprint must get a world of service providers to sign on to NFC pay-by-phone services, replace that world of magnetic stripe systems we all rely on these days and put up a bunch of smart ads, kiosks and services.
That’s going to be a lot more crucial than any trial and take a lot longer than four months.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 10:28 PM
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Intel and Atheros will square off next week at ISSCC when they both describe their latest 802.11n Wi-Fi chips. As usual, Intel has the edge in process technology using 90nm design rules for a 1x2 MIMO transceiver with integrated filters and power amp. But the 130nm Atheros part is no slouch with 2x2 MIMO and at least a similar level of integration.
STMicro will give a peak at the future with papers on a separate transmitter and receiver that handles Wi-Fi and WiMax at 2.4-2.7 GHz bands. Made in 65nm technology, the designs point the way to the kind of integrated comms parts Intel says it is planning for future Centrino notebooks.
Also of note in wireless, I see Georgia Institute of Tech will describe a 60 GHz radio in 90nm CMOS that consumes just 200mW but can kick out data at rates of 7-15 Gbits/s. It’s just an academic design, mind you, but the first 60 GHz radio I have seen described outside of the work of startup SiBeam which was one of the wireless stars of the recent CES.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 6:18 PM
Monday, January 28, 2008
It’s still early days for the next big step in Ethernet networking, the leap to 40 and 100G standards. But the newly approved IEEE P802.3ba task force is on the case and hopes to have a cogent draft by this fall.
A look at the group’s agenda from Portland last week shows they have been drinking double espresso. The agenda included more than 30 presentations from a wide variety of players including top dogs such as Alcatel, Broadcom, Cisco—the ABCs of Ethernet.
Interestingly, HuaWei is stepping up to take a significant role in the committee and is making solid technical proposals. The days of hacking on Cisco code are over for this emerging powerhouse.
Defining a common electrical interface has become one early issue for the standard. Joel Goergen of Force 10 Networks did a good job advocating for using the practical 4x10G and 10x10G links initially, moving to 4x25G in future—and maybe some 10x3 or 8x6 action in the medium term. Leveraging the 10GBase-KR standard for serial 10G links and getting in step with the Optical Internetworking Forum’s efforts on 25G will be key, according to Goergen.
If there are broader issues that need to be aired here, I am all ears. Post a note or drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime...Man, I am going to have get me some of that good Portland coffee!
Posted by Rick Merritt at 2:44 PM
Saturday, January 26, 2008
10G Ethernet needs some pushing with the costs still relatively high for optical versions and the power consumption still too high for copper. That’s supposed to start shifting in 2008, and the upcoming ISSCC conference in San Francisco may be the place to get the first glimpse of the prospects.
Based on the sketchy abstracts I have on hand, it’s hard to tell what the horizon looks like. Startup Teranetics will describe a 130nm chip that drives 10G Ethernet over 100 meters of UTP, but it burns a fairly hefty 10.5W doing it. And though made in a mainstream 130nm process, it still requires two fairly large blocks--a 55mm-squared analog front end and a 150mm-squared digital processor. What’s more the abstract does not say which flavor of UTP they are using, probably a pricey Cat7.
Startup Aeluros will describe a protocol-independent serial 10G transmitter using a three-tap filter for use in optical cables or backplanes that eats just 165 mW. But it doesn’t sound like it’s for copper cables and there is no word about a full transceiver.
Well, there are a lot of really smart engineers behind these ISSCC papers, but they are engineers after all—not magicians.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 6:35 PM
Thursday, January 24, 2008
That’s what the man said. Admittedly the man was Bob Whitman whose job is to develop new business opportunities for Corning, a leading maker of fibre optical cables. And admittedly it was a minor side point, heavily qualified, as part of a presentation focused on fibre-to-the home (FTTH) networks which are what really have Bob excited these days.
But that’s what the man said. And I repeat: “Until recently we haven’t even considered an in-home market for fibre, but we are beginning to think about it now,” he said.
I wrote on Monday that chip makers are saying the next-generation of systems that terminate a FTTH network will be integrated with residential gateways, making them a sort of Trojan Horse for optical in the home. However, those systems expect to link to copper and wireless home nets.
For ten years home nets have been living under the dictate “no new wires.” I don’t expect the Corning folks to get any reprieve from that guidance until there is such salivating demand for an application so high in bandwidth that no cleaver modulation over wireless, copper or even coax can cost effectively meet it.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 10:30 AM
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Tomorrow’s cellphones could sport as many as eight radios and require up to 11 antennas, according to Sudhir Dixit, head of network technology for Nokia Siemens Networks, speaking in a presentation at Photonics West today. “There’s an antenna jangle out there,” he said.
The radios included Bluetooth, multi-mode and frequency cellular (with four antennas), DVB-H, FM, GPS, RFID, Wi-Fi and ultrawideband. Dixit, an IEEE Fellow, called for new strides in miniaturization. Without them that future phone might need to dedicate a whopping 25 percent of its area to antennas and radios, he added.
The Nokia Siemens tech exec is admittedly making an extreme case that’s not likely to be on the engineer’s benchtop anytime soon. Similarly his projections of future phones with VGA resolutions on OLED screens and Gbytes of memory was a bit beyond the pale.
That said, we’ve been watching a slow motion explosion in wireless technologies over the last decade. The trend line Dixit outlined is real, even if the details may be a bit exaggerated for affect.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 7:24 PM
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
By 2012, more than 71 million homes worldwide will be outfitted with home networks thanks to a residential gateway box from a major carrier. That’s the prediction from a new study called “Networks in the Home” released by Parks Associates this morning.
Carriers are most interested in providing features such as multi-room digital video recording, streaming media and home monitoring, the report adds. A secondary goal is getting remote management technology into the home so they can more easily fix problems and up-sell services, according to the report.
That all rings true but, as usual for the market research world, probably a little optimistic on the 70 million figure. Anyway, after a decade of talk about home networking, it does look like it is sloooowly beginning to happen with carriers such as Verizon delivering more than one million gateways equipped with Multimedia over Coax and AT&T installing a fair amount of HPNA as well.
One of the next knee-jerk questions is when will they start cranking up the volume on bandwidth. A Verizon spokesman at a November event told me they are planning to move to multi-Gbit optical links soon so they are requesting MoCA quickly shift to 400 Mbits/second. A handful of chip makers are optimistically hoping this shift to Gigabit PON networks and unified boxes that marry the optical link to the home net kicks in big time in 2008.
Separately, over in the data center, Emulex is validating the N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) industry standard as the basis for virtualization in its products. At a Cisco event, Emulex is showing the technology across a range of high end data-center networking boards including a 10Gbit/s board for Fibre Channel over Ethernet. Unless I missed something, this FCoE board is still a prototype product. But it’s a good indication of progress on the technology if such products are now broadly getting demonstrated at industry events.
Everywhere I turn this morning there’s just a little bit of hope about new technologies for the new year. While stock markets dive into fears of recession, this is good news.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 10:15 AM
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Flipping through my daytimer, I see DesignCon is just a couple weeks away. So, it’s time for me to get up to speed--as it were--about all the issues pushing backplanes and transceivers to the bleeding edge and beyond. If you live and breathe this fiery stuff, drop me a note at email@example.com to let me know what’s keeping you up at night.
There’s no doubt the need for speed continues to send a plume of smoke up form engineers gathered at this event. Lee Goldberg will host an interesting panel on the move to 20-25 Gbit/second backplane links. My colleague Loring Wirbel will gather thought leaders from the applications world to talk about the drive to 100 Gbit/s networks.
Bring a fire extinguisher.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 5:52 PM
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I attended a panel of car and plane electronics makers at the Consumer Electronics Show this month that gave some insights into some of their most pressing interconnect issues.
Bill Mattingly, a vice president for electronics at Chrysler, said car makers need standard interfaces for consumer electronics—at least at the physical layer. “We can accept the fact we need to do protocol updates every year,” he said.
Gary Jablonski, a development manager for infotainment systems at Ford, said he expects to leverage more PC standards while waiting for car industry efforts. USB has already become the de factor audio interface for cars, he added.
A representative from an avionics company said car and plane makers need to agree on a video interface because USB is not adequate to the task. Choose wisely because it can cost a whopping $240 million to outfit a plane with new connectors, he added.
One after-market vendor said the industry needs a protocol to pause entertainment devices when the vehicle senses the driver is in a critical phase such as fast breaking or highway acceleration. “We need to get a standard for driver distraction,” he said.
Very basic reconfigurable radios to link to the outside world will also be critical, he added. Cars need to last twenty years and that may require spanning links from GSM to LTE or even WiMax, he said.
As for wireless inside the car, all sides said ultrawideband is a non-starter. “UWB has massive EMC problems in the car. It would be a nightmare,” said one panelist.
UWB and Bluetooth—due to its channel structure--are both not suitable for the airplane, said the avionics rep, although Wi-Fi is a maybe.
As if there were not enough problems, Chris Steiner, OEM sales manager at Garmin, said GPS makers have no common connector for their devices yet. “That’s one of the big challenges we, Magellan and others have ahead,” he said.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 5:19 PM
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Here we go again. The consumer electronics industry has just gotten to the point where there is a wide range of universal remote controls available to supervise all your gear no matter who made it. But with the rise of digital, high def products the technology is about to take a new twist.
The folks behind the High Definition Multimedia Interface laid out a scheme called HDMI-CEC. The standard lets each consumer company establish a baseline of interoperability with each other’s digital high def remote control products with room left over to add on any proprietary bits if they wanted to put a few special features in their devices.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 6:53 AM
Monday, January 14, 2008
The Serial ATA International Organization has begun work on a new specification that will provide power to external SATA devices without the need for a separate power connection, filling a small but significant hole in its coverage for the successful storage interconnect. Devices based on the spec could hit the market before the end of the year, enabling a new class of portable, external SATA hard disk and optical drives.
The new spec will provide power for a single drive directly from the host system using a Power-Over-eSATA cable. The cable will maintain compatibility with the existing eSATA connector form factor and the current maximum interface transfer rate of 3Gbits/second.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 10:00 AM
Friday, January 11, 2008
Based on everything I heard before CES, I don’t hold out much hope for the future of 1394 as a mainstream conduit in the digital home. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the news from the show that the 1394 Trade Association has approved a spec for 1394 over coax using the ultrawideband technology of Pulse~Link as a physical layer transport.
The word is the group farted around waaaay too long getting the spec out. An expected election for new leadership later this month could shake things up and give the group some new leadership blood. I am told Cablevision is doing field tests of 1394 over coax as a home net technology.
There’s a little glint of sunlight there, but it might be just the on-coming train. Most cable and IPTV companies seem to be inclining toward the more mature MoCA, powerline and phoneline options and even there a lot of the work is only tests and trials for many companies. As far as I can tell 1394 is at the back of the line.
What's more, before the 1394 group could even get word out about approving its 3.2 Gbit/spec, the USB crowd had already pre-announced plans for USB 3.0 at 5 Gbits/s. An Intel booth minder at CES said more than 100 companies have signed up to help finish a USB 3.0 spec by midyear with a big meeting in San Jose on the topic next week. He expressed confidence the group can hit its 5 Gbit/s target.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 1:08 PM
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I had a chance to meet Phil McKinney, chief technologist of Hewlett-Packard’s personal systems group on the show floor of CES. Here are some quick outtakes from our talk:
HP plans to experiment with wireless USB this year, probably in just a couple products and focusing on external dongles. McKinney is a big believer in W-USB, in part, due to its good penetration characteristics, but he sees 2008 as a trial year for the technology.
On another front, Cable Labs, Microsoft and others are still struggling through problems delivering a two-way Cable Card for PCs using Windows Media PC software. McKinney said engineers are now exploring an option of using the Internet as the back channel for requesting video-on-demand and other interactive services for PC/TV systems.
That’s a logical move since the Media Center PCs are geared to be on the Net, typically over Wi-Fi. But how all this pans out with the cable TV roll out of their new interactive services remains to be seen.
HP still has an active cellphone business that grew out of its iPaq handheld businesses. One of the big challenges is getting integrated multi-mode RF chips to reduce the size and power consumption of the devices.
Security is also an issue preventing businesses from rolling out mobile apps on cellphones. As many as 10,000 handsets a month are left in cabs in Chicago alone, McKinney claimed. That drove HP to acquire Bitfone for its over-the-air software update technology which HP has upgraded so it can also remotely erase any data on a lost handset.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 10:23 AM
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Late yesterday afternoon I was tired and trolling through the South Hall at CES when I spotted a barista station at the Qualcomm booth and pulled up for a nice latte made by the local San Diego coffee company Qualcomm brought up to Vegas. At the other end of the cafe bar stood CEO Paul Jacobs, so I made use of the serendipity and sidled over for a short, informal chat. Here are some outtakes from our coffee break:
Taking a view of the more cool things available for the cellphone the better, Jacobs says he welcomes local TV stations to the mobile broadcasting world Qualcomm is pursuing with its MediaFlo service. “Some people like to fight over the scraps, but I’d rather grow the whole pie,” he said.
He agreed with my observation the TV stations will find Hollywood knocking on their door for mobile royalties before they turn on the new services. “The hardest part of getting the MediaFlo service started was clearing the content rights,” he said.
Another nagging issue the local broadcasters face is understanding the black magic of getting good wireless coverage. The MediaFlo folks just finished a re-evaluation of some of their key markets, adding new base stations in spots where follow up surveys found coverage was spotty.
I asked Jacobs about the outlook for Qualcomm’s intellectual property revenues in the face of lean prospects for its next-generation of CDMA called Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB). Verizon has decided to migrate from Qualcomm’s EV-DO technology to Long Term Evolution (LTE) rather than UMB. If other big carriers follow suit as expected, developers will have a more consistent GSM-like worldwide cellular environment, but Qualcomm could have a smaller royalty base.
Jacobs said Qualcomm has a lot of patents that read on LTE technology. He said he has not worked out all the numbers yet, but expects no steep falloff in IP revenues in the LTE era.
He added that one major customer has already signed an IP license that covers the LTE timeframe. He also noted that UMBs a couple goodies not in LTE. UMB has superior support for minimizing multipath interference problems in the ad hoc placement of picocells. Jacobs said he is a big believer in picocells in the 4G timeframe and LTE will not be an optimal solution for them.
I wished I would have seen yesterday’s article about a judge lambasting Qualcomm’s IP attorneys. That would have provided for a couple more interesting wrinkles for our conversation.
Instead, I finished my latte and headed back out to the CES show floor, hoping for other great chance encounters.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 7:54 AM
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Posted by Rick Merritt at 1:56 PM
Monday, January 07, 2008
I expect Silicon Image will finally debut today at CES a version of its High Definition Multimedia Interface for mobile devices such as digital cameras, portable media players and cellphones. The technology will face a rising tide of interest in a host of wireless options that are attracting the attention of consumer OEMs including ultrawideband, Wi-Fi and 60 GHz radios.
Silicon Image may sample as early as February chips for its Mobile High Definition Link. MHL pares down the three Transition Minimized Differential Signaling channels in a standard HDMI connection to just one. A streamlined transmitter is embedded in the mobile device and a full HDMI bridge chip is put in a separate wired cradle the OEM would have to design.
The result is a 2.25 Gbit/s link consuming 60 mW average on the mobile device and running over five pins that can be mapped to any existing connector on the device. It aims to carry up to full 1080-progressive video encrypted with HDMI's High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP).
Silicon Image probably will not announce costs of the chips, which will be in production in late 2008. However total costs probably will be about the same as a full HDMI link on a TV. OEMs will have to pay the standard four cents per port HDMI royalty, and pass compliance tests at existing HDMI certification facilities.
The MHL work is based on an earlier design from Silicon Image called UDI originally aimed at PCs and notebooks. Computer makers decided to go their own route, developing the DisplayPort specification in the Video Electronics Standards Association—which has its own press conference at CES tomorrow. Stay tuned.
Silicon Image has been selling low power versions of its HDMI chips into high resolution video cameras for two years. MHL marks a significant expansion of that effort aiming for design wins in media players and cameras in 2008 and in cellphones as early as 2009.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 6:40 AM
At long last Bluetooth is gaining traction as a wireless link for MP3 players. The audio spec for this narrowband wireless link has been bogged down for years, attracting competitors such as Kleer and Aura, but no more as of this Consumer Electronics Show.
Samsung debuted at CES yesterday a digital boom box that contains a hard disk drive to rip CDs without a PC. It also sports a Bluetooth link to grab music from its latest Bluetooth equipped MP3 players and cellphones which apparently debuted on the market last year.
“A key differentiator of our MP3 line is our Bluetooth connectivity,” said a Samsung exec in a press conference.
Apparently the company had not attended the Philips press conference just prior to its event. Philips launched a roughly similar audio player and MP3 systems with Bluetooth yesterday.
I don’t know what has held Bluetooth back all these years. If you do, drop me a comment here or at firstname.lastname@example.org. The net result is MP3 players are going wireless. Hello, Cupertino, did you hear that? Better turn down your iPods and listen!
Posted by Rick Merritt at 6:17 AM
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Live from Vegas: My head is spinning from the “Death March” of pre-CES press conferences today. Among others things they confirm my suspicions that wireless video is not ready for prime time on digital TVs. Each major consumer electronics company trying out a different way forward and most are still in the stage of kicking the tires on the options. Here’s the quick-and-dirty rundown of who is doing what:
LG: Talking about wireless and “wireless ready” TVs generically. When asked they say it initially will be Wi-Fi but they are still exploring options.
Toshiba: Showing a demo their marketing VP thinks is based on 60 GHz radio, but he is not sure. Maybe the fall refresh will have a product commitment.
Philips: Working closely with Radiospire for wireless across all products. If all goes well products may flow in September.
Samsung: Demoing Wireless USB in TVs and digital cameras, but shipping Bluetooth on TVs (for MP3s?) and wired HDMI on HD cameras. They say next year they hope to have wireless USB on TVs, DVD recorders, printers, cameras—everything. They have selected multiple chip vendors, but will not say who they are.
Sharp: They are committing to wired powerline based on HomeNetAV (Intellon) in the US, though in Japan they have demoed some form of UWB.
Sony: Amimon just announced that Sony is demonstrating an HDTV using its proprietary variant of 802.11--no details yet on the nature of Sony's committment (or lack thereof) to the technology.
Panasonic: Perhaps the smartest of the group, they are touting sneaker net SD cards with slots on TVs, Blu-Ray players and cameras. Hey, it works and it’s here today. Their HD story is a 32 Gbyte SD HC card coming “soon” that can carry 5-8 hours of HD video.
If this is true, wireless video will probably ship in a bazillion products in 2009--and none of them will talk to each other. Oi vay!
Posted by Rick Merritt at 5:26 PM
Friday, January 04, 2008
Another day, another flow of wireless vendors trying to rack up proof points on the road to CES.
Ultrawideband pioneer Pulse~Link is coming to CES with backing from Westinghouse that has embedded its UWB chips into an HDTV. The company also got a design win for its version of UWB over coax.
Pulse~Link says Westinghouse will use its UWB chips to carry HDMI signals in an HDTV set “planned for initial commercial release to the B2B digital signage market in Q2 2008.” Sounds like more of an image statement than a run at the mainstream of Circuit City to me, but a branded HDTV demo is a big step forward for the chip company that was just showing board-level demos at last CES.
Another company, Geffen, is launching a bridge for anyone who wants to extend HDMI signals around their home via the Pulse~Link UWB over coax solution. The Geffen box goes on sale in April.
Competitor Amimon is not naming names yet, but claims it will have a top-tier OEM showing its Wi-Fi variant embedded in an LCD HDTV at CES to send full 1080p video streams.
I will be hunting next week for real shipping products in mainstream markets using any of this stuff. But I suspect that will be the theme for CES 2009. This is the demo year for wireless video, I suspect.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 5:04 PM
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Do you hear that sound? Everybody and his mother is coming to CES claiming they have the answer to sending high def video around the digital living room over wireless. Fact is, everybody wishes they had such a solution, and maybe someday a couple people will.
The latest news is the WirelessHD group has announced its 1.0 spec will be available this year. Don’t expect chip sets and compliance tests to come until at least midyear, making Xmas 2008 products a tight squeeze—if this technology succeeds.
WirelessHD requires a device discovery and control scheme separate from the widely used UPnP spec, which is not a good thing. And the initial chips will not be low power enough to get into battery operated devices such as digital cameras.
Startup Kleer will be demoing at CES its low power technology, a Bluetooth variant, but is not up to the high bandwidth, QoS and copy protection capabilities of WirelessHD. Belkin will demo at CES startup Amimon’s proprietary spin on Wi-Fi which falls somewhere in the middle of the two options. And of course there will be a mighty river of ultrawideband variants on hand.
At the end of the day, the whole idea of wireless video is still an unproven nice-to-have. Whether it will have sufficiently high quality and ease of use combined with low price to make it into tomorrow’s digital video systems remains to be seen.
The answer will be revealed not in cooked CES demos of wireless video. I saw them last year on UWB. What the technology needs is lots of proven silicon from multiple sources that hit the key metrics OEMs want.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 7:37 AM
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
I hope you all have enjoyed re-connecting with friends and family as much as I have over the holidays. Now the rhythms of work begin again, and for me that means the volume is turning up on the drum beat of the Consumer Electronics Show. My email box is already bulging with CES pre-annoucements, invitations and spam.
I’ll be in Vegas from Sunday through Wednesday trying to take in as much as I can. Let me know if you have the skinny on something popping at CES or if you have a craving for some info I might dig out there.
Posted by Rick Merritt at 8:50 PM