Gigabit Ethernet Goes Copper

Anyone offer you a penny for your thoughts? Save it for the copper wire.

Anyone offer you a penny for your thoughts? Save it for the copper wire.

Networking products that deliver Gigabit Ethernet over copper took the spotlight at last week's Networld+Interop show in Atlanta. The various solutions can bring high-speed connections to server farms and backbones that use more than 85 percent of a network's existing cabling.

The copper-wire products could lead to big savings for customers mulling fiber-optic installations. They also could free up resellers to focus on selling solutions-rather than pulling new wire through buildings.

Sixteen members of the 120-plus strong Gigabit Ethernet Alliance demonstrated equipment that shares files and runs full-motion video at gigabit speeds.

Although most products are not yet shipping, the event reinforced the strength of the IEEE 802.11ab standard. The standard, adopted in June, covers 1000Base-T Ethernet using standard or enhanced category 5, four-pair twisted copper wire at lengths up to 100 meters.

Hardware makers 3Com, Cabletron Systems, Extreme, Hewlett-Packard, Lucent Technologies and Foundry Networks, and blade maker FlowWise, sported backbone switches, workgroup switches or Gigabit Ethernet uplinks. 3Com, Alteon Web Systems, HP, SGI, Sun Microsystems and SysKonnect showed 1000Base-T adapters.

IXIA and Netcom highlighted their wire-speed traffic-generator/analyzers. 3Com and Mohawk/CDT announced a program to test and certify current wiring plants, a service also offered by several nonmember companies attending N+I.

Much of the equipment shown is based on controllers from Broadcom or Intel. Both expect to have volume production of their controllers in Q4, so Gigabit Ethernet hardware for copper installations will arrive incrementally, from November through Q2 of 2000.

Market watchers think these prices beat alternative technologies (like ATM) and will continue to improve. Greg Collins, senior analyst at The Dell'Oro Group, predicts the number of Gigabit Ethernet ports sold will grow from 11,500 in 1997 to 1.6 million in 1999 and to 5 million next year. Collins also notes Gigabit Ethernet will surpass sales of ATM ports this year and will dominate ATM sales in the near future.

Translation: Copper-based Gigabit Ethernet solutions could be a solid opportunity for VARs to put both fiber for long distances and copper for shorter distances into both the backbone and server farm, which can open opportunities for more server sales.