This report examines Ethernet switch chips and physical-layer (PHY) chips for a range of applications. We look at 10G Ethernet (10GbE), 40G Ethernet (40GbE), and 100G Ethernet (100GbE) switch chips for data centers; Carrier Ethernet switch chips; and Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) switch chips for enterprise designs. The 100GbE switch chips also serve pre-standard 25G Ethernet and 50G Ethernet rates. We cover 10GBase-T (copper) PHYs, 40GbE optical PHYs, and 100GbE gearbox PHYs and retimers. The newest 10GBase-T chips also handle pre-standard 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps rates over twisted-pair cabling.
The market for Ethernet chips was once dominated by enterprise applications but now relies on cloud data centers and service providers for growth. In data centers, Cisco’s ASIC-based Nexus designs hold majority revenue share, but virtually every other OEM and ODM system design uses ASSPs. The rising white-box movement also threatens to loosen OEMs’ hold and shift the market toward bare-metal systems built by ODMs. Hyperscale-data-center operators are driving the early ramp in 100G Ethernet switch chips, which enable 25G and 50G Ethernet for server access.
In 2015, however, 10GbE dominated data-center switch shipments. We estimate combined 10GbE/40GbE switch- and PHY-chip revenue reached $1.0 billion in that year, driven by fixed-configuration switches for top-of-rack (ToR) and leaf/spine use.
Although we refer to them as optical PHYs, 10Gbps serdes components also serve in SFP+ direct-attach cabling. Because most new ASSP and ASIC designs integrate these serdes, the market for standalone optical PHYs has begun to decline. By contrast, switch chips won’t integrate 10GBase-T PHYs for the foreseeable future. As a result, 10GBase-T PHY revenue exceeded $100 million for the first time in 2015. An emerging opportunity exists in 100GbE PHYs based on 25Gbps serdes technology. Owing to signal-integrity challenges, we expect an increasing portion of switch designs will require retimers between switch ASSPs/ASICs and optical modules.
Carrier Ethernet is another bright spot, as service providers increasingly use Ethernet and TCP/IP to replace legacy protocols. Backhaul and aggregation networks, particularly in China, are driving demand for GbE and 10GbE components. These networks have unique requirements, such as timing synchronization, that help support higher chip prices.
The vendor landscape for Ethernet chips comprises only two suppliers that have broad product portfolios as well as many suppliers with narrower offerings. Following several years of consolidation through acquisitions, the vendor base is once again expanding as new entrants target emerging opportunities in data centers and software-defined networking (SDN).
Broadcom has remarkably managed to transfer its leading share in Gigabit Ethernet to newer markets such as Carrier Ethernet switch chips, 10GbE/40GbE switch chips for data centers, and 10GbE/40GbE optical PHYs. In fact, its Trident family dominates among ASSP-based data-center switch designs. In 2015, the company shipped several new 28nm chips for 10GbE, 40GbE, and 100GbE designs, the latter including its Tomahawk switch. Avago’s recent acquisition of Broadcom has had little impact on the Ethernet switch and PHY products.
Marvell is Broadcom’s biggest Ethernet competitor. After falling behind its archrival in several segments, Marvell refreshed its portfolio by introducing a series of 28nm products over the past several years. Although the company has yet to match the breadth of Broadcom’s line, it offers competitive products across several important segments. Financial problems and management changes cloud its future, however, raising questions about Marvell’s roadmap.
Intel offers Ethernet switch chips that derive from its 2011 acquisition of Fulcrum Microsystems. Before 2015, it shipped conventional 10GbE/40GbE switch chips that compete with those from Broadcom and others. Intel’s most recent product, however, is a unique chip that combines an Ethernet switch with multiple host controllers. This product works with the company’s Xeon server processors in new rack architectures and in network appliances.
InfiniBand leader Mellanox is a relatively recent entrant in Ethernet switch chips and is shipping 40GbE and 100GbE products. The company has strong technology and an excellent record of product execution. It primarily sells system-level switch products, however, limiting its impact in the chip market.
Microsemi, which acquired Vitesse in April 2015, is the other established vendor offering Ethernet switch chips. It addresses Carrier Ethernet access, industrial networking, and SMB designs using low-power GbE switches. Cavium, through its spin-in of Xpliant, is the newest entrant in data-center switching. It offers a 100GbE switch chip with a uniquely flexible design. Based in China, startup Centec initially targeted Carrier Ethernet designs, but its newest products also address enterprise and data-center designs.
Many vendors serve the PHY market, but because PHY technologies vary widely, most target only one or two standards. Inphi was first to market with a 100GbE gearbox chip developed in CMOS technology; it expanded its portfolio by acquiring Cortina, a vendor of 10GbE/40GbE optical PHYs. Startup Aquantia emerged as one of the early 10GBase-T leaders and pioneered the NBase-T specification for 2.5G/5G Ethernet.