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Gigabit pipes en route

The Gigabit Ethernet Alliance readies a networking protocol to transfer data at 1000 mbps. Products are already in the pipe.

Faster networking speeds are on track to become reality in 1997. The Gigabit Ethernet Alliance (GEA) is preparing a networking protocol that will allow data transfer rates of up to 1000 megabits per second, and companies such as Packet Engines are already readying products.

Gigabit Ethernet is a general purpose networking technology that moves information across local area networks. Currently, "Fast Ethernet" networks can transmit data at speeds up to 100 mbps, while traditional Ethernet speeds are 10 mbps.

The industry alliance, which is composed of 93 members in the networking, semiconductor and computer industries, will meet at the end of January to review a draft proposal that attempts to standardize how elements of local and wide area networks will communicate with each other.

The current plan will allow existing Ethernet networks to interoperate with the new, faster network standard. Because the standards are interoperable, people can use existing applications, network operating systems, protocols, and network management, according to the plan.

Gigabit Ethernet will make its initial appearance where bigger "pipes" for transmitting data are needed most, such as connections between servers, routers, and network hubs, but not on desktop computers, the association said.

Already, Packet Engines has introduced a Gigabit Ethernet networking card for use in servers, backup systems, and high-performance workstations which conforms to the draft protocol standard. The company says they will begin shipping the product by May.

No pricing information has been announced.