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Faster Gigabit Ethernet standard gets OK

The fiber-only standard, a version of Ethernet that runs at 10 gigabits per second, wins approval, opening the door for a new generation of products.

The first fiber-only Ethernet standard was approved, opening the door for a new generation of Ethernet products.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) standards board gave the go-ahead on Thursday to 802.3ae, a version of Ethernet that runs at 10 gigabits per second (gbps).

The technology is already well proven, with a major demonstration by 24 companies at last week's Supercomm show in Atlanta, but, as it runs only on fiber-optic cables, it will not reach into enterprise LANs (local area networks) very quickly.

The technology will cost quite a lot at first and will initially be best suited for use in metropolitan area networks across installed fiber. Troubled economic times for the telecommunications sector may mean that the takeoff will not be as explosive as some might have hoped, but it certainly fills a need for service providers and those who sell equipment to them.

Suppliers including Agilent, Enterasys, Extreme Networks, Foundry, Intel and Nortel Networks showed 10 gbps products working together at last week's Supercomm in a demonstration organized by industry group the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance.

"The interoperability efforts of the 10GEA members and vendors provide a foundation for end-user confidence when deploying this high-speed technology in multivendor environments," said Bob Grow, chair of IEEE 802.3 Working Group, former chair of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, and principal architect in Intel Communications Group's CTO Office, in a statement.

"We will have a 10 gbps module within the next few months," said Martin van Shooten, European marketing manager for Extreme Networks. It will cost around $60,000.

Although he acknowledged that early sales would mostly be for metropolitan area networks, it will reach the enterprise sooner than some people think, he said. "There will be 10 Gigabit Ethernet backbones from day one. We have some enterprise customers already using it."

Where companies have fiber within or between their buildings, 10 Gigabit Ethernet will be a logical upgrade. And the prices are expected to starts to coming down beginning in 2003.

"We have a handful of large enterprise customers running their own metropolitan networks," van Shooten said. Rival 3Com is not planning to launch its 10 Gigabit Ethernet products till 2003, when prices can be more enticing to enterprises.

ZDNet U.K.'s Peter Judge reported from London.