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What's next for Ethernet?

Jim Duffy | May 21, 2013
400G in the short-term; longer-term, expect Petabit Ethernet in 40 years.

Internet traffic will quadruple in five years and the number of mobile Internet connections will exceed the world's population by 2017, according to Cisco research.

The number of Internet users will be a quarter billion greater this year than last and almost three times that of 2005, according to the ITU.

Bandwidth requirements in data centers keep rising to accommodate the growth in users and the service levels they demand. We're seeing it now with the progression from 10G to 40G to 100G Ethernet. Soon, Gigabit Ethernet will go the way of Fast Ethernet.

But 20 years before the World Wide Web, Ethernet speeds were increasing by an order of magnitude just about every 10 years or less: 10Mbps in 1973-83 to 100Mbps in 1993, 1G in 1998, 10G in 2002 and 100G in 2013.

Does that mean we'll see Terabit Ethernet in 2023? We're already on the way.

The IEEE recently launched a study group to explore development of a 400Gbps Ethernet standard to support booming demand for network bandwidth.

Networks will need to support 58% compound annual growth rates in bandwidth on average, the IEEE claims, driven by simultaneous increases in users, access methodologies, access rates and services such as video on demand and social media. Networks would need to support capacity requirements of 1 terabit per second in 2015 and 10 terabit per second by 2020 if current trends continue, the organization says.

So even though 100G products are just starting to appear, it's time to look into 400G, says John D'Ambrosia, chair of the new IEEE 802.3 400Gbps Ethernet Study Group and chief Ethernet evangelist, CTO office, at Dell.

"There's a tsunami in terms of bandwidth," D'Ambrosia says. "The iPhone didn't exist when we started 100G" Ethernet.

Increasingly, video is making up more and more content on the Internet. And more and more of that video is generated from mobile devices.

Social media site Facebook is now supporting billions of users vs. the tens of millions it had when 100G was first explored in 2006. The 100G standard was ratified in 2010. Four hundred gigabit Ethernet is expected follow the same timeframe and be ratified in 2017.

So in 2023-24 we could expect to see Terabit Ethernet ratified after a study group begins in 2019-20. And then 10T Ethernet 10 years after that; the 100T; and then Petabit Ethernet 40 years after Ethernet's 40th Anniversary, and 60 years after Gigabit Ethernet.

"By 2053, you will have a Titan (supercomputer) in your living room," said Huawei Enterprise COO Jane Li at last month's Ethernet Technology Summit conference in Santa Clara.  Titan, based at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, is the world's largest supercomputer.


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