Optical/IP Networks

Gig-E Testers Wear Two Hats

Think Gigabit Ethernet's mainly for fiber? Think again. Several suppliers say customers want modules that test copper Gigabit Ethernet interfaces along with fiber ones -- on a single platform.

Acterna Corp. (ACTRQ.OB), Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A), Innocor Ltd., Ixia (Nasdaq: XXIA), and Spirent plc (NYSE: SPM; London: SPT) all say their testers fit the bill.

Here's the deal: Even as Gigabit Ethernet metro services are growing in popularity, demand for ever faster desktop connections has set up a craving for copper as well as fiber interfaces on access gear. Copper is, after all, the kind of cable most likely to be installed in the businesses that are increasingly logging onto high-speed services.

"Gigabit Ethernet over copper is gaining significance because there's so much more copper installed already," says Sailaja Tennati, analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Spirent uses data from another firm, the Dell'Oro Group, to prove the point: Sales of Gig Ethernet, via copper and fiber, was $3.3 billion in 2002 and will rise to $7.3 billion in 2007, representing port shipments from 7 million to 75 million. Of those ports, 27 percent are now copper, but 77 percent will be copper in 2007.

Access switch vendors need testers to help them meet these requirements. In the past, R&D labs would have two different products, one for copper and one for fiber interfaces. Now, watchful of costs, OEMs want to pay for just one box that can test both connections -- and then some.

Enter the so-called dual-PHY or dual-media Gig Ethernet testers on the market, including:
  • Acterna's DA-3400, which supports copper and fiber testing of a range of access and transport technologies, including Sonet/SDH and DSL, as well as Ethernet at rates from 10 Mbit/s to gigabit Ethernet;
  • Agilent's RouterTester 900, outfitted with a range of Ethernet testing capabilities in March, including a two-port gigabit Ethernet card with dual-media capabilities. Agilent also says it's got dual-media features in at least two other portable data comm and telecom testers;
  • Innocor's Tsunami Gigabit Ethernet Test Module, introduced in March (see Innocor Enhances Test Platform);
  • Ixia's OLM1000STXS24 Ethernet Load Module for the Optixia Performance Validation System, announced in May (see Ixia Intros Seven Testers); and
  • Spirent's SmartBits TeraMetrics XD Gigabit test series, unveiled last week (see Spirent Puts Xilinx in Ethernet Tester).
Tennati says the products are a move in the right direction. "[OEMs] have been using multiple boxes. This kind of tester is a big cost savings," she says.

Indeed, the concept of using one tester for many different things has been a growing trend in the tester market for months (see Ixia Gooses Its Testers). So it's no surprise that it's hit the Gigabit Ethernet segment.

Differentiators are tough to weed through. The vendors claim things like faster processing, more tests per chassis, more granular tests per chassis, smaller footprints, and, of course, lower price. Without doing our own lab test, it's tough to quantify these claims.

One thing: Having numerous media supported on one platform is no guarantee that testing will run more efficiently. For that to happen, it's important to look not just at scale or diversity of media handled by a tester, but at its capabilities to automate the setup of different tests and repeat them as needed across multiple networks. These features will help distinguish the winners in this rising class.

Given all this, expect to see more networking types added to multipurpose testers in the future. Vendors also are starting to add dual-media capabilities to their 10-Gbit/s Ethernet testers (see 10-Gig Testers Turn Up the Heat).

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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