Optical/IP Networks

Ten Gig Meeting Sparks Optical Flap

Open warfare broke out at last week's 10-gig Ethernet standards meeting, with carriers facing off against equipment providers over optical interfaces.

The atmosphere at the IEEE 802.3ae task force interim meeting in La Jolla, Calif., was reportedly "rancorous and unhappy."

"It's a civil war," says Thomas Dineen, a meeting attendee and an independent system and ASIC design consultant in Milpitas, Calif. "And some presentations, shall we say, didn't facilitate an attitude of compromise."

At issue were the inclusion of short-reach, 850-nanometer interfaces between networking gear -- such as routers, switches, and cross-connects -- and optical networks, including those supporting DWDM (dense wave division multiplexing). Carriers want 850-nm links, because that would allow them to create inexpensive, short-reach 10-Gbit/s Ethernet interfaces over existing multimode fiber. The links could be used, for example, to connect switches in a central office.

But sources say that equipment vendors -- such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), and Nortel Networks Inc. (NYSE, TSE: NT)-- rejected solutions that supported older fiber. Instead, they backed the set of options including 1300- and 1500-nm serial links over single-mode fiber. The vendors can charge a premium for these interfaces, which will require special "boutique" manufacturing and will force carriers to adopt new, costlier fiber.

In the end, the vendors carried the day. There is at present no 850-nm option in the baseline proposal - despite its obvious benefits to carriers. And that won't change -- unless there's sufficient consensus at the next meeting to include the 850-nm options. That's left carriers steaming. "Short reach interfaces in the CO will account for two-thirds of all 10-gig applications. It was very obvious that system vendors did not want those interfaces to be cheap," said one. "They're following the money trail, trying to standardize the more expensive options. It's all about controlling the market."

Some accuse the vendors of stuffing the ballot box. "The system vendors vote together, like a cartel, to protect their interests," said the anonymous attendee.

Not true, say the vendors. They say supporters of 850-nm links wanted to include too many interface options in the standard. System vendors were merely protecting the proposal from needless complications. "Equipment vendors don't want to confuse the market with too many interfaces," says Bob Grow, a voting member who also heads up the technical committee of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance (10 GEA), a consortium that is separate from the IEEE. He says that having too many interfaces will cause vendors to present multiple solutions, diluting the value of the standard.

The optical battle promises to continue at the next IEEE 802.3ae meeting, slated for Boston in the second week of September. "There are still some objectives of the task force that aren't being fulfilled," says Dineen. "We agreed to support legacy fiber last year. Until we do so or change the objectives, there is a hole to fill."

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

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