Some equipment manufacturers are working on technologies that will allow transfer rates of 100 Gigabits per second over Ethernet networksLast month, San Jose, Calif.-based Force 10 Networks Inc. announced it was awarded two patents for a backplane designed for 100 Gigabit Ethernet switches. Force 10’s announcement came a week after Lucent Technologies Inc. of Murray Hill, N.J. announced it transmitted data at 107 Gbps over 2,000 km over fibre optic cable.

At the European Conference and Exhibition on Optical Communications, Lucent’s Bell Labs unit presented a paper claiming it transmitted electronically multiplexed traffic at 107 Gbps using equipment similar to that used in 40 Gbps networks, which normally use the Synchronous Optical Network (SONET) protocol.

Although Ethernet offers “better economies of scale” than SONET, it’s not clear whether there will be an interoperability standard for 100 Gigabit Ethernet, said Mark Seery, vice-president of optical service infrastructure for Ovum, a London-based market research firm.

“Talking about 100 Gig is potentially speculative when it comes to the wide-area network,” Seery said.

He added 100 Gigabit Ethernet over WANs would help carriers and service providers create “logical bundles” of 10 Gigabit Ethernet links. Although there’s no particular service driving demand for 100 Gigabit Ethernet, video services like IP television and Web sites like YouTube are contributing to an increase in Internet traffic, Seery said.

Brad Booth, president of the Ethernet Alliance, agrees.

Carriers or cable companies offering video on demand will drive demand for 100 Gigabit Ethernet, while corporations will need to aggregate 10 Gigabit traffic, Booth said.

A lot of companies are running Gigabit and 10 Gigabit switches in the data centres, Seery said.

“The main application is aggregation of all traffic,” he said, adding it will be “at least five years” before 100 Gbps Ethernet is “widely deployed” in WANs.

Although 10 Gigabit Ethernet was ratified four years ago, fewer than one per cent of the ports on switches shipping today are 10-Gbps, according to Campbell, Calif.-based Infonetics. However, the market research firm predicted port shipments would increase 74 per cent per year between now and 2009.

Companies installing 10 Gigabit links for business applications will need to aggregate these links at some point, Booth said.

“They will either get into a bottleneck or they’ll have to look at the next speed.”

The fact that many technology managers are already familiar with Ethernet is one advantage the technology has over SONET, Booth said.

But the standard will probably not be finalized within the next three years, he added.

Last July, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) formed its High-Speed Study Group of vendors, who voted to propose and discuss possible technical specifications of the next Ethernet standard.

Seery said it’s possible the new top speed for Ethernet might be 160 Gbps, rather than 100 Gbps.

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