For much of Ethernet's history, speed increases were measured by a factor of 10. 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) grew to 100, then to 1000 (1 Gbps) and up further to 10 Gbps and 100 Gbps.
In 2014 a new trend has emerged, one that favors mid-speed standards falling between existing Ethernet standards. At one end is the 25 Gbps effort that will serve markets where 10 Gbps isn't enough and 100 Gbps is too much. At the other of the spectrum is 2.5 Gbps, which will serve markets where 1 Gbps isn't enough, but 10 Gbps isn't practical for cabling reasons.
Among the key players in the Ethernet world is John D'Ambrosia, chair of the Ethernet Alliance. D'Ambrosia said that 2014 is a fitting year to have a discussion about new Ethernet speeds. In 2013, Ethernet celebrated its 40th anniversary and a history of 10x leaps.
"With the exception of 40 GbE, we have always had a focus on 10x leaps, and it seems like we tried to solve every problem with the solutions that we had, as opposed to solving every problem," D'Ambrosia said. "There are now sizeable markets that can't be ignored, that are not growing the same way that Ethernet is used to."
In the case of 25 GbE, D'Ambrosia said that it makes a lot of sense from a capital expenditure perspective. He added that as 25 GbE matures, it will represent a viable solution for many markets. The effort to launch a 25 GbE standard got started in July of this year and has been building momentum and consensus ever since. The Ethernet Alliance is hosting a free online webinar event on 25 GbE on December 11.
Efforts have also been building for a 2.5 Gbps Ethernet specification. There are currently two different groups with their own respective views on the 2.5 Gbps speed. There is the MGBASE-T alliance and the Cisco-led NGBASE-T Alliance.
"The Ethernet Alliance is not the only place to have discussion on Ethernet, but we have contributed throughout the process with discussions that we have sponsored this year," D'Ambrosia said. "It's all about consensus building, and the Ethernet Alliance plays that role very well."
While there are multiple groups with their own views on how a 2.5 Gbps standard should be specified, D'Ambrosia said that overall, there is strong need and desire for a single standard that will enable multi-vendor interoperability.
While the goal is to have a single specification for Ethernet standards, D'Ambrosia noted that having multiple solutions is a good thing.
"The ability to point to multiple market alliances is also a good thing when you look at it in terms of broad market potential," D'Ambrosia said. "There is enough interest that two different organizations were formed to address the market — that's significant."
IEEE work on 2.5 and 25 GbE
From an IEEE standards perspective, there is now an IEEE study group waiting for approval from the IEEE SA standards board this week. The Ethernet Alliance will continue its educational and consensus-building activities as well.
The 2.5 Gbps speed is currently under investigation as the IEEE 802.3 Next Generation Enterprise Access Base-T PHY Study Group. That group has its next meeting set for January in Atlanta.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.