In a controversial move, Infineon Technologies AG has launched a two-pronged attack aimed at establishing a beachhead in the emerging market for business-oriented digital subscriber line chips.
At this week's DSLcon conference in San Jose, Infineon, together with DSL-equipment maker Adtran Inc., announced the formation of a group to accelerate the development of a new symmetric-DSL (SDSL) specification called G.shdsl.
The so-called SHDSL Consortium got a cool reception from many of Infineon's competitors. But the company is hoping to beat out SDSL rivals like Conexant Systems, GlobeSpan, Intel, and Metalink by shipping its chips into the market first and building enough momentum to get its technology recognized as a de facto industry standard.
With a number of companies nipping at the heels of Infineon's first G.shdsl chip, observers are urging OEMs to exercise caution before committing to any one architecture. Even with an early lead, the G .shdsl specification would not be ratified as a full-fledged standard until sometime later this year, assuming it garners the necessary industry support.
Still, with Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass., predicting that business-oriented DSL lines will increase from 70,000 last year to more than 1.8 million by 2003, OEMs and chip makers are staging a full frontal assault on the fledgling market.
Designed as a low-cost replacement for T1/E1 lines, G.shdsl aims to pull together the various flavors of business-class DSL, such as SDSL, high-bit-rate DSL (HDSL), and HDSL-2. Unlike the fixed 1.5-Mbit/s rate of TI/E1 or HDSL, G.shdsl is a multirate protocol that allows users to connect at data rates ranging from 192 Kbits/s to 2.3 Mbits/s.
It also solves another problem. Today's multirate SDSL-based equipment enables users to connect at different data rates, but systems from various OEMs use their own proprietary protocols and are not interoperable, according to Ernie Rapiere, an analyst at Vision Quest 2000 Inc., Moorpark, Calif.
"G.shdsl is the missing piece in the SDSL market," Rapiere said. "The adoption of the G.shdsl standard will help accelerate SDSL technology."
One OEM agreed, but noted the specification has far to go. "G.shdsl is what we've been waiting for, but I think it's still a year away from being deployed," said Bob Beliveau, product marketing manager at Copper Mountain Networks Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., the world's largest supplier of SDSL equipment.
Copper Mountain's SDSL equipment currently incorporates chips from Conexant, the world's leading supplier of SDSL ICs with about 80% of the market, industry sources said.
Hoping to seize some of Conexant's market share, Infineon has rolled out Socrates, a single-chip G.shdsl device. Based on a 16-level TC-PAM (Trellis Coded Pulse Amplitude Modulation) line code, Socrates supports data rates ranging from 160 Kbits/s to 2.3 Mbits/s.
"Lots of people are talking about it, but Socrates is the first chip in the market to sup port G.shdsl," said Ben Runyan, product manager at Infineon, San Jose.
The chip was developed in tandem with Adtran, Huntsville, Ala. The companies expanded their relationship by announcing the formation of the SHDSL Consortium, which will be administered by the University of New Hampshire.
But the group was not immediately embraced by Infineon's rivals, which fear the company will use its new protocol to try to corner the SDSL market. "Why do we need another consortium?" asked Danny Gur, vice president of business development at DSL-chip maker Metalink Ltd., Folsom, Calif. "It's up to the standards body to determine G.shdsl, not Infineon."
"I wouldn't mind joining the consortium," said Ron Cates, director of DSL marketing at Conexant, Newport Beach, Calif. "But if the organization compromises the standard, then I'm not interested."
Next month, Conexant will begin sampling its previously announced SDSL-enabled chip, the ZipWire2, which supports HDSL-2, SDSL, and G.shdsl. And next week, GlobeS pan will announce a new SDSL-based chip line.