The market for active optical cables (AOCs) for non-data center applications will reach $1.2 billion by 2019, according to a new report from market research firm Communications Industry Researchers (CIR). Non-data center applications for AOCs include personal computing, digital signage, and consumer electronics, says the researcher.
The report notes that AOCs have already found some use as a bandwidth-efficient means of transporting video streams for digital signage. According to CIR, this market will grow as it becomes more common to feed digital signage with multiple content streams and signage is networked over entire cities. Today, the connection between the display and the media server is usually DVI or HDMI. The connection from media player to content server is usually an Ethernet connection. Either connection could be implemented with AOCs, according to analysts at CIR. The firm estimates that AOCs sold into the digital signage space will reach just over $350 million by 2019.
Revenue from sales of AOCs in the personal computing sector will grow to $835 million by 2019, the analyst claims. These would support high-speed connections to peripherals or storage devices, but also LANs-on-motherboards (LOMs) and board-to-board connectivity. AOCs aren’t necessary for such applications until higher speeds are reached, but at 25 Gbps AOCs have better costs than copper over 3 meters – and the Thunderbolt interface common on Apple computers already operates at 20 Gbps.
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In fact, Thunderbolt may be the best example of how AOCs’ fortunes could evolve in the personal computing environment, asserts CIR. Intel continues to develop the optical Thunderbolt technology, and firms currently offering Thunderbolt AOCs include Corning, DeLock, and Sumitomo. As early as 2011, a Sony Vaio laptop used optical Thunderbolt to connect to a graphics card.
However, for AOCs to really take off in the personal computing market, CIR posits that they will need active support by high-profile equipment manufacturers or network interface card (NIC) vendors, to make the advantages of AOCs become better known to PC users. For AOCs to be a success in personal computing, AOCs must also be sold through mainstream PC channels, in the same way as other types of cabling, CIR suggests.
Notably, the analyst is more pessimistic about the consumer electronics sector. It believes that the opportunity for AOCs in consumer electronics will be limited to extenders in home theaters and for personal video editing. For AOCs to generate more than niche revenues, the large consumer electronics retailers will have to be convinced AOCs are worth their while. This may be hard given the arrival of 10 Gbps USB 3.1 in 2013, says CIR.
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This information is covered in the second volume of CIR’s annual report on AOCs. The first part, dealing with AOCs in data centers, was published in April. Volume II, which covers AOCs for non-data center applications, will be published in June 2014 under the title “Active Optical Cable Markets and Opportunities: 2014 to 2024: Volume II – Personal Computing, Consumer Electronics and Digital Signage Markets.”
In addition to AOCs with standard data interfaces, the report provides coverage on AOCs supporting HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, Thunderbolt, PCIe and USB 3.0/3.1 environments. The report provides nine-year forecasts of non-data center AOC markets, with breakouts by end-user application, interface standard, cable lengths, type of cable, and wavelength. Forecasts are provided in units shipped and revenue terms.