The Hottest Connector Technology of 2016 (So Far!)
With the first half of 2016 behind us, Bishop & Associates’ Dave Brearley takes a look at the hot products and technologies that are dominating the year so far.
The Hottest Connector Technology of 2016 (So Far!)
Writing about connector innovations is always fun; recent developments are no exception. Innovative connector solutions have been introduced that increase density, speed, flexibility, reliability, and power delivery. There are even several new solutions being promoted that promise to deliver power without any physical connection at all.
First, in the category of increased density, two new front-panel pluggable form factors are being developed with the objective of increasing the bandwidth and number of ports that can be packed into a standard 1U enclosure.
MicroQSFP squeezes all of the functionality of QSFP (four channels) into an SFP-sized port that allows up to 72 ports on the front of a 1U switch card. Each port can run signals at 25 or 50Gb/s, providing bandwidth up to 100Gb/s per port. Pluggable fibers can connect each port to the next-level upstream or downstream element, making this a very efficient and convenient switch architecture. Special attention has been paid to improved thermal management with air channels between blocks of four ports. Promoting members of the MicroQSFP Multi Source Agreement include Broadcom, Brocade, Cisco, Dell, Foxconn, Huawei, Intel, Lumentum, Juniper, Microsoft, Molex, and TE Connectivity.
QSFP-DD is a new standard for pluggable modules that promises high-speed, double-density connectors for optical fibers to system front panels. With eight lanes carrying 25Gb/s NRZ signal streams or 50Gb/s PAM4 streams, it is possible to have up to 14.4 Tb/s of aggregate bandwidth from one switch slot as well as to place up to 36 of these ports on one front panel, each carrying up to 400Gb/s.
This important new MSA (multisource agreement) is supported by chip suppliers like Broadcom, Mellanox, and Intel; system suppliers including Brocade, Cisco, and Juniper; optical device suppliers including Finisar, Lumentum, Luxtera, Oclaro: and connector suppliers including Molex, Foxconn, and TE Connectivity.
On-board Optical Transceivers
On-board optical transceivers are making huge advances with increased capacity and reduced cost. In principle, the idea is to place an optical transceiver as close as possible to the host ASIC or CPU, thus minimizing the electrical signal length on the PCB to reduce attenuation and signal distortion. The optical transmitter is then connected to an optical cable that can “fly over” all of the objects on the board to a conventional optical front-panel connector.
Significant products include Amphenol-FCI’s LEAP on-board transceiver, which delivers an aggregate 300Gb/s transmission over 12 fibers in an MT connector format, and Samtec’s Firefly system, which provides a 28Gb/s receptacle connector on the board that can mate with fiber transceivers, multi-conductor coax, or high-speed twinax cables. The Firefly system also offers active or passive equalization inside the cable, which permits longer cable lengths or higher data rates. Samtec is aggressively tooling variants of this family to expand the customer base for mid-board pluggable solutions.
Radiall has developed a very innovative I/O connector system to address the need for a small, reliable, and flexible outdoor connector. The OCTIS system uses a common IP67 sealed interconnect form factor suitable for a variety of important industry standard connections, including SFP with transceivers inside the cable, RJ45 for Ethernet, and even Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) or just power connections. The OCTIS system includes color coding and keying to ensure cables are mated into the proper port. The rugged latch provides a robust connection and strain relief. This family has been licensed to Amphenol-FCI as second source.
The OCTIS cable products are designed to address the need for a multitude of small boxes needed to facilitate deployment of 5G wireless infrastructure as well as many industrial, IoT, and medical applications. The front panel connector pitch of 26mm is well suited for many separate cables in a small space.
Wireless Power for End Users
Another area of fruitful innovation has been the effort to eliminate traditional connectors and cables, replacing them with wireless counterparts. We are all familiar with the power of WiFi to connect many end users quickly and securely to the web, but now developments are underway to wirelessly deliver power to the end user as well, even in public spaces.
Currently there are four different technologies competing to be the wireless charging method for your devices.
Cota Real Wireless Power Platform, invented by Ossio, uses a base station that can deliver up to 1W of power to a device 30 feet away with objects and people in the path. This system uses intelligence to sense any obstacles and to refocus the high-frequency beam to avoid them. This power level is about 1/3 of the level of a direct USB power connection but is fully sufficient to eliminate the need for users to ever plug in. The receiver is small enough to fit in a phone or small tablet. Molex invested in this technology in January of this year.
XE, a Ukrainian startup, is developing a wireless charging technology that uses frequencies below 100MHz to charge mobile-phone-like devices. It uses a special case or cradle for the phone, and the transmitter can support multiple devices simultaneously. Ivan Chuba, the founder of XE, likens the power transmission method to that of an old crystal radio. Transmission power is less than 5W, a value said to be safe for people and animals.
Energous has developed a wireless charging technology called WattUp, which received an award for “Best of CES” from Engadget. A transmitter sends energy via an RF signal, similar to WiFi, to a receiver in or attached to a device up to 15 feet from the transmitter. According to Engadget, highly targeted pockets of energy are delivered via multiple miniature antenna arrays and custom control chips in the transmitter. An antenna and custom chip in the receiver captures the energy. This system transmits on demand, as the receiver first asks for power, then the transmitter locks on to deliver the energy to where it is needed. Up to 12 devices can share one transmitter. This system uses the 5.8GHz unlicensed RF spectrum.
uBeam is building a solution that uses ultrasound waves instead of electromagnetic waves to transmit the power because, it says, the ultrasound approach is safer. In principle, it uses many transmitters that configure themselves to focus power on the receiving device. This early-stage development technology does require line-of-sight connection between transmitter and receivers. The founder, Meredith Perry, expects the first product to be a consumer phone case and wall-mounted transmitter.
All of these technologies offer the promise of continuously charging all your devices without separate wall warts and cables for each device. It should be an interesting fight to see which wins. Hopefully one will emerge as clearly superior so that it can be broadly deployed, allowing us to charge at home, in the office, in the car, at coffee shops, and airports. May the best technology win!