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Gigabit Ethernet on its way

The core proposals for a Gigabit Ethernet networking standard have been finalized, and work on the first draft of the specification will begin.

A standard for high-speed Gigabit Ethernet networking technology is another step closer to reality.

The Gigabit Ethernet Alliance announced today in a conference call that the set of core proposals for a Gigabit Ethernet networking standard has been finalized and work on the first draft of the specification will begin. The announcement is a result of a meeting held last week in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The road map that will result in an adopted standard by early 1998 is still on track, according to Gigabit Ethernet Alliance steering committee members. A first draft will be reviewed at a meeting in January of next year and a vote from the more than 80 alliance members is on schedule for next July.

"We intend to maintain momentum in developing the standard," said John Bestell, strategic marketing manager for Lucent Technologies, an alliance member.

The creation of the Gigabit Ethernet standard is being closely watched by the industry because several market research firms have pegged the market for Gigabit Ethernet products at anywhere from $1 to nearly $3 billion by the year 2000. The technology is thought of as a solution for network managers who want to connect a series to Fast Ethernet switches and hubs to form a LAN (local area network) "backbone."

Interest is high in the 1,000-mbps technology because it offers a high degree of investment protection for those networks that have already invested heavily in Ethernet and Fast Ethernet network connections. "In general, it differs very little [from those technologies]," noted Bob Grow, vice president of industry relations for XLNT Designs, another alliance member.

The Gigabit Ethernet Alliance is a task group of the Internet Engineering Task Force. Shiva and Silicon Graphics are two prominent companies among the latest group of vendors to join in support of the effort.

Gigabit Ethernet is expected to battle ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) interconnect technology in the LAN backbone and as an interconnect between devices such as server computers. Products are expected to start trickling out in the first half next year as it becomes clear that no technology additions will be made to the standard. Products will be flooding the market by 1998 when the final standard is available.

The new networking architecture will offer the same data frame formats, the same management information, and the same half- and full-duplex capabilities as its previous Ethernet incarnations. Minor features will be added to address larger data frames and increased efficiency for small data frames of information. Minor changes to Media Access Control (MAC) specifications will be included in the standard. A fiber channel technology physical layer is also included in the standard that will run at gigabit speeds.

The alliance has set a March deadline for changes to the technology specification.