The companies most directly involved in multicore processors, notably Intel, also are concerned with improving gate performance without make the chip interconnects too small to be reliable. Consequently, they have turned to gates (the active transistor element) that are themselves implemented in three dimensions, like Intel's Tri-Gate. Combine that with 3D packages, and suddenly a multicore chip can drive multiple communication interfaces at once.
Now, let's look at the efforts to drive individual communication channels to speeds of 100Gbits, and eventually a terabit, per second. A few years ago, system vendors turned from parallel to serial communications, because parallel buses were just too hard to work with. But behind the scenes, chip vendors reintroduced some parallel techniques inside the chips, all in an effort to shrink size and power. If you take a careful look at the 40Gbit ports planned for future Ethernet systems, you'll see four channels of 10Gbit interfaces at the edge of a chip. For 100Gbit ports, you'll see either 10 channels of 10Gbit serial interfaces or four channels of 25Gbit ones.
Firms like Vitesse Semiconductor and Applied Micro, which make the physical interfaces in question, were the first to push the channelization of interfaces. Luckily, they got a lot of support from the people who make the fiber-optic components that link communication chips to long-haul fibers.
When a coalition called the Optical Internetworking Forum got started 10 years ago, it dealt with fiber-optic algorithms and could barely speak chip talk. In the last couple of years, the OIF has become the semiconductor maker's best friend by promoting standards for optical modules that help define and drive a high-speed channelized interface -- standards like the Common Electrical Interface.
Ten years ago, there were dozens of router, switch, and optical transport system companies that cared about such chip-level and fiber-level interfaces. But the double whammy of the 2001 Internet crash and the 2008 global financial crash reduced the list of system players in telecommunications equipment to Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE, and very few others.
So why is this important? Well, the universal acceptance of IP and Ethernet means all new base stations for wireless networks use elements of these standards, as well. So do the storage area networks that once relied on Fibre Channel, and so do supercomputer clusters. In fact, the universe of players that can take advantage of small, power-efficient communication chips might be almost as large as the vast array of consumer devices out there -- or at least as diverse a user base.