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SolarFlare Communications -- 10GBase-T PHY Transceivers
Founded: Jan 2001
Status: Private
Issue(s): 6/01, 9/02
9501 Jeronimo Road, Suite 100
Irvine, CA 92618
Tel:  949/581-6830
Fax: 949/581-4695

SolarFlare Communications was founded in January 2001 to develop “high-performance semiconductor solutions for system connectivity.” The company is developing high-performance ICs for physical layer connectivity. In January 2003, SolarFlare closed $17.5M in second-round financing led by Anthem Venture Partners and including previous investors Foundation Capital and Sequoia Capital, and new investors Intel Capital, Miramar Venture Partners, and Windward Ventures. SolarFlare has raised $29.8 million to date. Additional capital will be sought towards the end of 2004. The company has 50 employees.

SolarFlare’s architectural and algorithmic techniques simplify the complexity of building high-performance physical layer (PHY) transceivers. Its communications architectures and algorithms improve data rates, costs, and distances and enable existing networks to migrate to next-generation speeds without replacing the physical infrastructure. The company’s technology roots come from JPL.

SolarFlare argues that its approach to the physical layer challenge is radically different from traditional methods. By “changing the channel” to mitigate the most risky design elements, and by incorporating advanced communications architectures and algorithms into silicon, SolarFlare produces robust solutions that deliver much higher throughput, longer operational distances, and lower costs.

SolarFlare is initially developing 10GBase-T PHY transceivers that are compliant with the emerging IEEE 802.3an standard for 10 Gbps Ethernet transmission over installed structured Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) copper wiring (Cat 5e or better) in the enterprise. The company’s 10GBase-T transceivers combine media-optimized mixed signal processing, proprietary algorithms, and custom DSP engines to provide “the most powerful communications solutions available.”

Today’s 10Gbps Ethernet links are implemented with either very expensive optical-fiber transceivers or with cumbersome, short-reach, twinax coaxial cables. And most industry experts believe Cat6 or Cat7 cables will be required to achieve 10 Gbps throughput.

Yet UTP media dominates LAN cabling with more than 800 million Ethernet UTP ports installed. Fifty percent of data centers have only UTP while only 1% of total ports are fiber. Nearly all new installs are CAT5e and CAT6 UTP. SolarFlare’s 10GBase-T transceivers are designed to work on the same LANs that support 1000BASE-T (1Gbps Ethernet over UTP cabling) today.

SolarFlare recently created a demonstrable CMOS-based transceiver that is capable of sustained 10 Gbps operation over industry-standard, widely deployed Category 5e (Cat5e) copper cable. Cat5e is the cable type most frequently used in Ethernet networks. Several companies have speculated about the possibility, and even showed feasibility through simulations; however, SolarFlare claims to be the first to demonstrate 10Gbps operation over long distances of copper cable with real hardware.

SolarFlare’s transceiver uses standard CMOS fabrication technology and proprietary signal-processing algorithms that improve data recovery and mitigate noise in copper wires so that they can support higher data rates. The transceiver is designed to operate over Cat5e, Cat6, or Cat7 cables with lengths up to 100 meters.

The SolarFlare 10Gbps Transceiver DSP is a mixed analog and digital single-chip device fabricated with 0.13u CMOS at TSMC and housed in a 600-pin BGA package. The device contains in excess of four million logic gates. The chip is capable of direct interface to existing 10Gigabit Ethernet MACs and uses a standard management data input/output (MDIO) control bus. The AFE will be fabricated in 0.18u CMOS by TSMC.

The first IEEE 10GBase-T draft standard should be completed in mid 2004 and standard ratification is anticipated in 2006. Actual introduction on the chipset will be delayed until issuance of the draft standard.

Russell Stern, CEO (previously President and CEO at JNI and GM and COO at Quantum)

Dr. George Zimmerman, Founder and CTO (previously VP of Strategic Planning and chief scientist at PairGain Technologies)

Ron Cates, VP of Marketing (previously VP of Marketing and Sales at Peregrine Semi and VP and GM of Conexant’s Broadband Access Business Unit)

Ben Charny, EVP of Development (previously director of Carrier Products at PairGain Technologies)

Bradley Masters, VP of Engineering (previously VP of Engineering for JNI)

Fred Tarazi, VP of Operations (previously VP of Worldwide Manufacturing Operations at uNav Microelectronics)

Mike Rodensky, VP of Sales (previously VP of Sales and Marketing at Telephotonics and VP of Sales at Maker, which was acquired by Conexant)

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