SAN MATEO, Calif. -- After years of promises to bridge the gap between local-area and wide-area networks, chip manufacturers and OEMs may finally be ready to deliver.
But the long-awaited convergence of LAN and WAN has also created a collision course between new and not-so-new technologies vying for dominance.
Broadcom Corp., for example, this week formally announced a transceiver for 10-gigabits-per-second Ethernet networks--a product that enables OEMs for the first time to extend the reach of traditionally LAN-based Ethernet technology to the WAN. (see May 2 story).
And at next week's Networld+Interop trade show in Las Vegas, other chip makers and OEMs are expected to announce 10-Gbit Ethernet products.
But they all may be jumping the gun. The standards for 10-Gbit Ethernet technology won't be ratified until March 2002, according to Tony Lee, president of the recently formed 10-Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, an industry consortium that hopes to accelerate the technology's introduction into the market.
"We won't see a first draft of the [10-Gbit Ethernet] specification until October or November of this year," said Lee, who is also director of product marketing at Extreme Networks Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif. "But before that, I expect a lot of companies will announce or talk about10-Gbit, including next week [at Networld+Interop]."
Indeed, chip makers and OEMs are rushing out their 10-Gbit Ethernet products to capitalize on what is expected to be a $1 billion market by 2004, according to the Dell'Oro Group Inc., of Portola Valley, Calif.
But even beyond that sizable market opportunity, observers say that 10-Gbit Ethernet could have a profound impact on the network, possibly posing a major threat to the traditional WAN-based technologies: Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and synchronous optical network (Sonet).
Ethernet carries LAN-based data traffic to the WAN, which in turn transports the traffic to high-speed, nationwide backbones via ATM and/or Sonet. Both ATM and Sonet are proven fiber technologies but are costly to deploy.
On the other hand, 10-Gbit Ethernet, while transporting data over fiber networks at 10 times the speed of today's 1-Gbit Ethernet lines, does so at only two to three times the cost, which is still only about one-fifth the cost of deploying ATM or Sonet, according to analysts.
"10-Gbit Ethernet will steal some opportunities from the WAN, particularly ATM," said Kim Funasaki, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Mountain View, Calif. "However, there's a large installed base of ATM and Sonet in the network. As a result, 10-Gbit Ethernet, ATM, and Sonet will most likely co-exist."
"We don't think ATM or Sonet will go away," said Steve Perna, vice president and general manager of the Optical Network Division at PMC-Sierra Inc., of Burnaby, B.C., which makes a wide range of chips for ATM and Sonet networks (see May 4 story).
"In fact, we believe that Broadcom's announcement is a joke," Perna said. "Broadcom only provides one piece of the overall puzzle in 10-Gbit transmission. To provide a true 10-Gbit Ethernet transmission, you need more than just the transceivers, such as a MAC, Ethernet-based framing devices, and Level 4 packet-over-Sonet processing," he said.
Broadcom executives responded that the Irvine, Calif., company's intention is to address only the transceiver side of the equation.
"I don't think PMC-Sierra read our announcement properly," said Nariman Yousefi, director of engineering at Broadcom. "The reason why [PMC-Sierra] is saying this is because they're way behind us in 10-Gbit. At the same time, PMC-Sierra is comparing apples and oranges. They're right to say you need [other components to support 10-Gbit transmissions]. But what we're trying to address is the transceiver problem."
Broadcom's chip, the BCM8010, can simultaneously transmit and receive 10-Gbit Ethernet data over single-mode fiber-optic cabling for a distance of 50 km.
Geared for LAN, WAN, and metropolitan-area and storage-area networks, the chip works in conjunction with laser-driver optical components based on Coarse Wave Division Multiplexing technology to establish a link between Ethernet and fiber-optic networks.
The BCM8010 is built around FusionCore, a programmable transceiver core based on four-channel, CMOS technology that moves data at speeds of 1.25 to 3.125 Gbits/sec.
Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. plans this summer to introduce the first in a family of transceivers for 10-Gbit Ethernet applications, said Fred Weniger, product manager at the Camarillo, Calif., company.
Next year, Vitesse will ship a more robust 10-Gbit Ethernet device based on Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing. "DWDM is the technology that the service providers want," Weniger said.
Agilent Technologies Inc. also plans to announce a 10-Gbit Ethernet device in the near future, according to Bill Weir, product manager at the Palo Alto, Calif., company. Agilent, the Hewlett-Packard Co. spinoff, plans to offer OEMs a one-stop shop for these devices by providing both the transceiver and the optical components, Weir said.