Latest version of Ethernet to push network speed limit

3Com, Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems and a handful of other firms plan to support new high-speed technology for corporate networks and the Internet.

2 min read
3Com, Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems and a handful of other firms plan to push the edge of the networking speed envelope by supporting new high-speed technology for corporate networks and the Internet.

The companies hope to spearhead an increase in the capacity of Ethernet, the dominant networking technology for connecting PCs and server computers together on a network.

The group, formally announced today, will help create a standard for 10-gigabits-per-second (Gbps) Ethernet, a higher-speed version of the existing, dominant local area network technology. A similar effort was undertaken to develop a market for gigabit-speed Ethernet, a version which is just now taking hold.

What makes the latest speed boost interesting is the fact that Ethernet is already so widely deployed. Network managers well-versed in the technology, for example, could one day conceivably run Ethernet-based systems across their local network layouts as well as their long-distance links.

Networking firms are pushing the speed limit to provide the bandwidth needed for the voice, video and data services being sent across networks, such as large files being exchanged between businesses.

Analysts said 10-gigabit Ethernet will be important in the future to help ease network congestion.

Ethernet has historically been used to link a company's office computers together. But with the faster gigabit speed, Internet service providers (ISPs) and telecommunications carriers can use, for the first time, Ethernet-based networking equipment to create faster Internet-based networks.

In some cases, it can serve as a cheaper replacement to asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) technology, which sends voice and data signals over networks at high speeds, Dataquest analyst Todd Hanson said.

Businesses will first use 10-gigabit Ethernet to link their corporate headquarters with remote offices, according to Hanson. Service providers will become the second group to deploy the high-speed technology, he said. And as the demand for bandwidth among users increases, it may find its way into offices, connecting high-end computer systems together.

Ethernet currently reaches gigabit speeds, or 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps). While some businesses have adopted the newest standard, most are still using older and slower Ethernet technology that runs at 10 or 100 Mbps. Products based on the gigabit-speed version have been out for some time, but many firms have just recently seen a significant surge in sales of the technology.

The new standards group, called the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, includes Extreme Networks, Intel, Nortel Networks and a networking start-up called World Wide Packets.

The organization's goals are three-fold: contribute to the standards effort led by a standards body called the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; promote the new standard; and create guidelines that will help tech companies ensure that their products built using the faster Ethernet technology are compatible with each other, according to Edward Hopkins, 3Com's technical marketing manager.

The standards body is expected to approve a standard by spring 2002 with the first products from networking firms shipping just before that, according to Hanson.

News.com's Ben Heskett contributed to this report.