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IEEE Nails Down 10-Gig Ethernet Basics

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) has reached a hard-won consensus on the fundamental contents of the upcoming 10-Gbit/s Ethernet standard.

"We've resolved our objectives. We've reviewed and passed the first draft. The remaining work will be to fill in the technical specifications," says committee chair Jonathan Thatcher, who also is principal engineer at World Wide Packets Inc.

According to Thatcher and other attendees of last week's meeting of the IEEE P802.3ae committee in New Orleans, a turning point came when the group was finally able to agree on the specific interfaces, also known as physical medium dependencies (PMDs), that will be included in the final specs.

The PMD issue had been particularly troublesome, because the interfaces chosen will determine how easy it will be for customers to install new 10-Gbit/s Ethernet equipment or upgrade existing networking gear.

"We were stuck on the PMDs and objectives for a year," says Bruce Tolley, a product manager at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) who also is VP of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, an industry forum. "At every meeting there were more different ways to connect to the network."

The IEEE has now finally decided to specify four basic interfaces to 10-Gbit/s LANs and WANs:

  • 1310-nanometer, four-color "coarse" or wide wavelength-division multiplexing (WWDM) over multimode or singlemode fiber (extending to 300 meters over multimode fiber and 10 kilometers over singlemode)
  • 850nm links over multimode fiber (extending to about 65 meters)
  • 1310nm serial links over singlemode fiber (extending to 10km)
  • 1550nm serial links over singlemode fiber (extending at least 40km)

  • Each of these four interfaces will work with either standard 10-Gbit/s Ethernet or the optional Sonet framing format, which is designed for use in WAN transport.

    Of the above interfaces, the first one is the most significant. "The inclusion of WWDM was very important to system vendors, as they can build routers which will work with both singlemode and multimode fiber, using only one PMD," wrote one attendee in an email message to Light Reading today.

    Still, the jury's out on how all these interfaces will play out in the market. The specs should help ensure that a variety of devices from different vendors will work together, but it's going to take awhile before it's evident just how well they'll interoperate and which ones will become most popular. The IEEE 10-Gbit/s Ethernet specs aren't slated for finalization until 2002.

    In the meantime, a growing number of equipment vendors say they're readying kit to put to the test. Here are some of the leading proponents:

    For more on the specs, the committee Web site can be accessed at http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/802/3/ae/index.html

    -- Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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