Alliance pushes Ethernet to new fronts

Industry group The Ethernet Alliance is expected to launch this week, with the goal of promoting the use and development of Ethernet technology, especially in areas beyond traditional LAN applications.

Ethernet, the predominant LAN technology for over a decade, is expanding lately into new markets such as carrier networks, consumer and home electronics equipment, as well as system bus and switch backplane components. The Ethernet Alliance says it will push the technology into such new areas, while also acting as a permanent industry special interest group for promoting next-generation versions of IEEE 802 Ethernet standards as they develop.

The focus of similar past groups, such as the Fast, Gigabit, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliances, was to ensure vendor interoperability and adherence to IEEE standards. This will continue.

"Our goal is to promote all existing and emerging [IEEE] 802 Ethernet standards," says Brad Booth, chairman of the Ethernet Alliance, and a product director at Quake Technologies, an Ethernet semiconductor company. This includes promoting emerging standards such at 10G Ethernet over unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cabling - expected to debut later this year - as well as research into the next-generation flavor of Ethernet, with speeds of 40 Gpbs and 100 Gbps being discussed among standards makers.

While promoting technology so ubiquitous as Ethernet may seem like touting PC keyboards or evangelizing the wheel, Booth says his alliance will also work on educating industries and sectors that are just starting to work with Ethernet technology.

Reflecting this broader reach is the mixed lineup of Ethernet Alliance members, with 3Com, Broadcom, Intel, Pioneer, Samsung, Sun and Tyco Electronics among them.

Carriers have started to explore Ethernet as a WAN technology, while more makers of home electronics gear are starting to build wired and WLAN technology into DVD players, cable TV boxes and even home appliances. The use of Ethernet as a high-speed interconnect, similar to Fibre Channel, and as a system bus and backplane transport technology in PCs and telecom equipment, is also emerging.

On the basic workings of Ethernet, Booth says, "there are still misconceptions and basic questions I hear" from manufacturers and companies outside the LAN market.

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Phil Hochmuth

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