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Terabit Ethernet could be on its way

By Max Burkhalter
May 12, 2011
Some businesses are clamoring for terabit Ethernet as a way to foster video transmission and mobile internet, while others are still struggling to deploy 40 G and 100 G and want the IEEE to take smaller steps and move toward 400 G instead. To identify which of these groups offers the best short- and long-term conclusion to the growing need for Ethernet bandwidth, the IEEE has announced the formation of the 802.3 Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment Ad Hoc group.

The new research group plans to have a report out by 2012, which should clarify where the IEEE will head in developing a new Ethernet standard. John D'Ambrosia, chaiperson of the ad hoc group, explained that a major division currently exists about which Ethernet standard should be pursued, as hardware infrastructure is still barely reaching the 100 G standard for most businesses.

Therefore, many component designers are claiming the terabit Ethernet goal is simply unrealistic because the industry is just now beginning to explore transmitting signal at serial rates greater than 25 G. D'Ambrosia explained reaching serial transmission rates of 100 G is starting to look like a realistic possibility, as network administrators can now use four lanes of 25 G serial connection instead of having to use 10 lanes of 10 G serial. However, expanding this out to terabit Ethernet appears unreachable to some.

D'Ambrosia went as far as to say ratifying a fully terabit Ethernet standard could end up stretching the laws of physics.

To begin the process of defining need for terabit Ethernet, D'Ambrosia said the work group is polling many businesses and service providers to identify their bandwidth needs. Currently, D'Ambrosia said backbone networks and other foundational systems are experiencing an incredibly fast rise in bandwidth needs, but most service providers and businesses are still working to 25 G. However, he recognized that it is important that the IEEE stay ahead of what is currently needed, and may need to strive for terabit Ethernet.

While terabit Ethernet may be a standard for the future, two distinct research groups have found ways to deliver 1 Tbps Ethernet using optical cable infrastructure. One group, from Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, accomplished more that 1 Tbps by using 7-core optical cable. Another research group, from NEC, used a special laser system to send optical data packets out more quickly than previously possible.


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