IEEE to Introduce New Ethernet Speed

Posted by at 8:37 pm on August 20, 2012

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, otherwise known as the standards body IEEE, are announcing a new standard for the venerable Ethernet networking protocol that will result in speeds between 400 gigabits (four times the current standard) and one terabit per second (ten times the current standard). IEEE anticipates the need for the latter speed as soon as 2020.

The standards body may take the same route that competing technology Thunderbolt has taken and embrace the lower speed — still far faster than current norms — using copper-wire technology (which has limitations on weight and length) to keep the cost reasonable until fiber-optic wire matures to the point that the full potential of Terabit Ethernet can be realized. Currently, the cost of doing 1Tb Ethernet would be highly prohibitive and unwieldy, reports CNet.

For this reason, most suppliers are currently favoring the 400Gbit speed, which is accomplished by aggregating 25-gigabit connections into a group of 16, or a group of 32 for bi-directional equality. The cords would likely be thicker and heavier than current cording, and would still be reliant on copper cable. A copper-based 1TB Ethernet would likely result in a cable more than two inches in diameter and very limited in weight, flexibility and length, to say nothing of the possible cost.

The IEEE wants Ethernet to stay ahead of burgeoning demand for faster speeds. Most users can’t fully utilize the existing Ethernet connections they may already have (100 megabit up to one gigabit), but enterprise, corporate, Internet infrastructure and other users that do a lot of local-network file sharing or transfer will be able to take advantage of the increased speeds, preventing one of the bottlenecks of large-scale computing.

The standards body anticipates that Terabit Ethernet may make a debut as early as 2015, and will be followed rapidly by a scaling to 100 Terabit, possibly as early as 2020. It is worth noting that these are theoretical predictions of technological ability, rather than estimates of when such speeds would actually become available at a practical price point — which tends to follow the proof-of-concept by a number of years. Terabit Ethernet was originally predicted to be at the early-adopter stage by 2010.

Social services like Facebook and Google have been pushing for faster adoption of higher Ethernet speeds, but widespread adoption of Terabit Ethernet is seen as many years off and dependent on the mainstreaming of fiber optic or other similar technologies. The current fastest consumer-level networking connection is Thunderbolt, which can deliver speeds of up to 20Gb per second bi-directionally, significantly faster than existing Gigabit Ethernet connections. Like the hopes for Terabit Ethernet, Thunderbolt promises to offer greater speeds when it can switch to fiber-optic or similar wiring technology.

The group believes that networking speeds will need to be 100 times what they are presently by 2020 in order to handle the expanding demand of Internet and local networking requirements.

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