IEEE infighting may derail Ethernet development

Disagreements over the speed of next-generation Ethernet threaten to dissolve the standards body's Higher Speed Study Group

Squabbling within the international IT standards body IEEE looks set to derail efforts to clarify the next Ethernet standard.

A group within the standards body, which was set up to define the evolution of Ethernet, has succumbed to infighting, and it may now be dissolved.

The Higher Speed Study Group (HSSG) is working on defining the rules for a standard faster than the current limit of 10Gbps. The group consists of representatives from the world's top networking vendors, including Cisco, Nortel, Foundry Networks, IBM and Intel.

Ethernet has always been developed in factors of 10, from 10Mbps to 100Mbps to 1Gb Ethernet to 10Gb Ethernet.

But several figures within the HSSG want to make the next step a factor of four — to 40Gbps. Others want to maintain the tenfold growth.

Proponents of giving Ethernet a fourfold speed boost argue that their concept is a necessary, simple and cost-effective step that has broad market potential. Fourfold increases are common among telecoms carriers who have based their networks on SDH, or synchronous digital hierarchy.

Those supporting a move to 100Gbps do not want to be bogged down by a second proposal.

Online discussions between HSSG members have been particularly heated, leading to accusations and name-calling.

The group will meet in San Francisco in July to try to resolve the issues. "All must work together to drive towards a consensus position, or the future of this group is clearly in doubt," said the chair of the HSSG, John D'Ambrosia.

Issues which must be overcome include ensuring that the higher speed is transmitted over the full 100 metres, and making sure that signals do not interfere with neighbouring cables, a phenomenon known as "crosstalk". Such high bit rates may also require considerable power, which could cause heat issues in comms cabinets.

A 100Gbps standard was originally slated to be finalised by the IEEE in either 2009 or 2010.

10Gbps is not yet widely deployed. Fidelity Investments and Somerfield, the supermarket chain, are two rare cases of UK businesses who have deployed the technology in their data centres.