Push for more bandwidth drives Ethernet innovation

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Push for more bandwidth drives Ethernet innovation

The push to offer greater bandwidth for corporate and residential users is driving innovation in developing new 10Gbps (gigabits per second) Ethernet products, making fibre-optic networking more pervasive and improving the speed of wireless local area networks (WLANs).

These trends were evident at the giant Networld+Interop conference in Las Vegas. A common standard for 10Gbps Ethernet is now in its third draft and expected to be a reality by March 2002, according to Tony Lee, president of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance (10GEA) in California, and marketing director for Extreme Networks. The alliance represents more than 100 companies that are working together to develop the standard.

Ethernet technology is used in nearly 95% of all LANs, Lee said. The new 10Gbps technology is expected to be used in metropolitan area networks (MANs), wide area networks (WANs), LANs and even storage area networks (SANs), he said. The 10Gbps Ethernet transmission standard increases the speed from the Gigabit Ethernet, or one billion bits per second, rate commonly used now. The perks of using Ethernet include simplicity in management, installation, design and support, Lee said.

His views were backed up by network technology analyst David Axner, president of Pennsylvania-based DAX Associates. "Ethernet is simple," he said. "Everyone knows it. It is not a forklift upgrade. It's an easy migration. There is no high cost."

A few 10Gbps products were on display this week, but more are expected when the Networld+Interop show in Atlanta convenes in September, 10GEA's Lee said.

Products that enable the delivery of fibre-optic services to the home were also on show. NTT Communications in Tokyo now has 300 test users that are directly connected to a metro optical network, said Takuya Kato of Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company, which displayed an Access Media Converter that allows end users to connect to the fibre with an Ethernet connection. NTT's fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) trial offers users data speeds of 100Mbps, Kato said.

Similarly, SBC Communications has announced that it will begin trials offering direct fibre connections in Houston and to a residential and business development connected to the University of California at San Francisco. The initial roll-out in Houston will provide a T-1 service, which offers data rate speeds of 1.54Mbps.

"It's all driven by the bandwidth demands and companies' WAN growth," said Kurt Prather, a senior sales support engineer with optical network equipment provider Digital Lightwave.

In the wireless broadband space, a few vendors talked about the move from 802.11b to 802.11a WLAN technology. The current standard, 802.11b, offers an 11Mbps wireless connection for distances of about 150 feet indoors. The new 802.11a technology increases the wireless data rate to 54Mbps. Benefits include the ability to wirelessly stream video and multimedia to wireless-enabled devices, according to vendors here.

The two main chipset makers in the 802.11a space, Cisco Systems and Atheros Communications, were on hand for the show. Cisco came by its technology through the February acquisition of Australia-based Radiata. Cisco expects to begin seeing 802.11a products in the market by the second quarter of 2002.

Meanwhile, Atheros Communications plans to start shipping its AR5000 Wireless LAN chipset in the US in the third or fourth quarter this year. It expects its chipset to be used by companies such as Intermec Technologies, Proxim, TDK and Xircom, a division of Intel.

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