Active Optical Cables Target All Corners of High-Speed Interconnect Market View (View in Chinese)

The AOC market reached close to $ 70 million in 2011- up more than 70% compared to 2010 as shipments exceeded 305, 000 units. The segment is forecasted to grow to $175 million and 786,000 units by 2016. The rapid growth is being fueled by wider adoption of AOCs among High Performance Computer (HPC) manufacturers, as the technology has been battle proven by early adopters. Data rate of InfiniBand interconnects used in HPCs is also growing rapidly with 4x14G FDR over from 4x10G QDR- introduced 2 years ago.

The Ethernet data center community has taken notice of AOC technology. Cisco’s acquisition of Si-photonics start-up Lightwire announced this week is yet another confirmation of the trend. Although installation can be a pain in congested short reach cabling environment-data center managers love the low price of a high bandwidth 40G link that is “plug & play- watch forthe green light” without all the connector costs and operating expenses associated with cleaning and repairs. New top-of-rack and end-of-row switches are all slotted up with QSFP 40G ports waiting for Intel’s Romley server that will drive 10X the traffic to the switch infrastructure. QSFP AOCs and parallel optic transceivers are going to be the “next big thing”.

The AOC market will remain volatile as long as it is dominated by HPC InfiniBand products. A single new HPC can use up to 40,000 AOCs, so the market can swing by 40,000-60,000 if a new systems deploys AOCs -or not. Mid-June 2010 China with the Tianhe-1A HPC took the number one position using 35,000+ AOCs in a channel bonding format that striped two cables into one controller chip for a 8x10G (80G) one way link. In September 2011, Japan took the top spot with the Fujitsu K Computer that used no AOCs and all copper! This is because HPCs can take 10 years to build and depending on where the build was relative to the 5 year old AOC market development will determine if AOCs are used.

Fujitsu’s Kcomputer

There seems to be no end in sight to the continued stream of companies entering the active optical cable and direct attach cable markets-all gearing up for the next generation of servers and switches. Major suppliers and Asian-based companies whose names we have trouble tracking are still entering the market. 3M introduced its foray into direct attach cables and active optical cables. Recent developments in manufacturing and AOC “assembly kits” enable creating an a complete 40G, plug & play, 10 meter AOC link for less than the price of a single 4x10G QSFP transceiver!

AOC Assembly Kits
In a recent press release GigaLight, release stated it has,”accomplished the industrialization of 40G QSFP+ AOC components, ending the oversea manufacturers’ monopoly to AOC market.” Gigalight and others have produced AOC assembly kits and enabled a number of new Chinese HDMI cable suppliers to enter the market chasing the new Chinese HPC builds. Unsubstantiated rumors of prices hitting the $99 mark in volume are circulating. With this kind of flood, numerous system OEMs are enforcing key-locks on third-party AOC use as many “discount AOCs” also offer the Plug & HOPE it Plays” feature! Secondly, the jump to 4x14G and 4x28G is definitely going the thin the pack as building these is not trivial.

Parallel optic transceivers still have place in structured cabling for longer reaches but AOCs are starting to own the 10-50 meter reach space using low price as a weapon. SFP+ Direct Attach copper cables are dominating the server uplinks as 10GBASE-T is still waiting for 28-nm and AOCs are becoming very popular at reaches beyond the 5-7 meters of Direct Attach copper cables. On the horizon are active Direct Attach copper cables promising 4x28G at ~6 meters and WDM AOCs using silicon photonics at 4x28G in a QSFP using single-mode fiber at 1550-nm. With 55% of the links in data centers at <55 meters and passive Direct Attach copper limited to 7 meters at 10G and 3 meters at 14G, active Direct Attach copper is going to be needed for all reaches at 28G.

Consumer Electronics Show Booth Showing LED Lights, Clock Radios, HDMI Cables and Supercomputer AOCs Reaching New Levels (bottom shelf - orange cable)

Non-Data center Applications Gain Market Traction
AOC technology is spreading to all corners of the high-speed interconnect markets. Video AOCs are being used to link digital cinemas and professional video studios, using the long reach capabilities of AOCs. Consumer AOCs for living room interconnect business is dominated by inexpensive copper and active copper links with the next generation WiFi, called WiGig at 7Gbps, on the horizon threatening to eliminate all the wires. AOCs still have a difficult time proving a real need at “living room” reaches and the high cost. Consumers do not want ANY wires at all.

But depending on what happens at the Cupertino Central Bank (also known as Apple) and Intel with Thunderbolt with 2012 ultrabook PCs, the short reach AOC Thunderbolt business may or may not ramp up significantly. Thunderbolt is an active cable with a 2 meter reach at 10G per lane so if a significant market develops for longer reaches, this segment will take off. However, why would anyone need to connect a 400 Mbps disk drive in a notebook to a 9 Mbps cable modem using an expensive 10 Gbps AOC! There has to be reasons more than “because it is painted white” to spend the extra money for Thunderbolt cables when a quad pack of HDMI cables can be bought retail of $6. A 2 meter Thunderbolt cable today is priced at $30+ retail.

Embedded AOCs - eAOCs
Lastly, AOC vendors are trying to catch the “mobile train”. Using polymer and glass fibers with very low cost TIA/LD electronics, AOCs are getting into an entirely new segment: smartphones, tablets and ultrabooks! You though optical were used only for long haul to cross oceans? Soon, it will be in the palm of your hand. Internal electronics to support 12M pixel camera chips (going on 24M pixel) connected at an 8-inch reach to 4 core, 2GHz microprocessors and fancy graphic chips to display on “Retina” type displays at 2Kx1K resolution ���-and all nicely wrapped up in an aluminum shell - is creating enormous EMI issues for designers at 5.6G signal rates. AOCs to the rescue! Low power, low cost and EMI immunity for data rate at 5.6G is the sweet spot.

8-Inch eAOC for Next Generation Ultrabooks, Tablets and Smartphones

NEW REPORT!�� LightCounting analyses all of this in our new report titled, AOCs Supercomputers to SmartPhones and Everything In Between; Inside and Out.�� This report details annual shipments, revenues, average selling prices from 2007 to 2011 and forecasts to 2016 of the technologies, market trends, protocol transitions, data rates, and MSAs. It also includes a review of the expansion of AOCs into new market segments of disk and SSD storage, GPU clusters, and subsystems and board-level interconnects using SAS and PCI Express AOCs. Lastly, analysis of embedded AOCs soon to be used in mobile devices such as ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones for high-speed signaling in high EMI environments.

More information on the report is available at (
Brad Smith, VP & Chief Analyst,

LightCounting at OFC/NFOEC 2012:

The LightCounting team will be at OFC/NFOEC 2012 at the Los Angeles Convention Center from March 6-8, 2012. Learn more about trends in Optical Ethernet and the Data Center during two panel presentations to be hosted during the exhibition.

Lighting Up the Data Center
March 6, 2012 from 3:30-5:00 pm PT
Theatre II, LA Convention Center

Next-Generation 100G Optical Ethernet
March 7, 2012 from 1:00-2:00 pm PT
Theatre II, LA Convention Center

About LightCounting: LightCounting LLC is the premier optical communications market research company, offering semi-annual market update, forecast and state of the industry reports based on analysis of publicly available information and confidential data provided by more 20 leading module and component vendors. LightCounting is the optical communications market’s source for accurate, detailed and relevant information necessary for doing business in today’s highly competitive market environment. Privately held, LightCounting is headquartered in Eugene, Oregon. For more information: or 408.962.4851.