Bandwidth on the run

Vendors continue to develop new networking technologies, but the age-old question remains: what are we going to do with all of this bandwidth?

Two hot topics at last week’s Comdex Canada trade show in Toronto were 10 Gigabit Ethernet and fourth-generation (4G) wireless networks.

Some

might wonder why we’re even talking about 4G wireless when 3G isn’t available in North America yet.

3G wireless is generally defined as wireless personal communications service (PCS) that lets you transfer content (whether it’s data, graphics or video) at rates of 2 Mbps when you’re at a fixed location, 384 Kbps if you’re walking down the street, and 144 Kbps when you’re driving.

Today’s wireless Internet technologies – dubbed “”2.5 G”” by some -will get you anywhere from 45 to 86 K, depending on which service you use.

That’s a far cry from 384K, which is commonly recognized as an acceptable speed for video conferencing. For a stationary user who needs to transfer large files, it’s not hard to make good use of 2 Mbps transfer rates.

4G wireless involves transfer rates of up to 10 Mbps, although Craig Matthias, principal of the Farpoint Group, said 4G really isn’t about bandwidth. Matthias, who spoke at a panel discussion titled “”Future Watch: 4G and Beyond,”” said we’ll have 4G service when we have “”pervasive”” access to the applications we need. Generally speaking, that could mean bandwidth of up to 10 Mbps.

Perhaps if you’ve just landed at an airport and you’re in a limosine travelling downtown and you really need to hold a video conference, you could have a 4G receiver hooked up to the television in the limo.

If you’re a news photographer, you’re on the road and you need to transmit a high-resolution to the newsroom quickly, you might be in the market for 4G services.

Other than that, do users really want to do the same things in a mobile environment that they do at the desktop? Perhaps they will if the bandwidth will allow it, but the reality is, data transfer rates are much higher at the wired desktop than at a notebook connected to a 2.5G network.

In local-area networks, some users have 100 Mbps to the desktop, and there’s even talk of Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop.

Gigabit Ethernet has been around for over four years, while the standard for 10 Gigabit Ethernet was ratified several weeks ago.

Several vendors, including 3Com, Cisco, Enterasys, Agilent and Extreme Networks, have introduced 10 Gigabit Ethernet products.

No one is suggesting that every office will need 10 Gigabit backbones, but organizations that run simulation programs and medical imaging might need this amount of bandwidth, according to Ray Milhem, senior director of product management for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Extreme Networks’ Black Diamond product line. Milhem made his comments last week at Comdex, where Extreme was promoting its Black Diamond products.

Whether 10 Gigabit Ethernet will be used to connect workgroups to one another, or to hook up buildings within a campus environment, there’s no doubt that some niche users will have a need for it.

Lauri Vickers, a senior analyst for Ethernet switching at the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based In-Stat/MDR, said large organizations running transaction pshe adds the technology is a little ahead of its time.

There’s little evidence that bandwidth in a campus or building is really an issue for users. The important issues for users include managing networks, keeping them secure from hackers and insiders (whether they’re malicious or just plain dumb) and making sure applications stay up and running.

On the other hand, bandwidth is probably the biggest issue for wireless Internet services. But before we get too far in depth in our discussions on 4G or even 3G, let’s make sure we get 2 and 2.5G right. After all, what good is 3G if you can’t even get 2G at a major international airport?

gmeckbach@itbusiness.ca

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