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Ethernet Speeds in 2023

By Scott Kipp

At the recent “Future of Ethernet” Technology Exploration Forum (TEF 2013), participants discussed various aspects of Ethernet, but none as exciting as the next speeds of Ethernet. With TEF 2013 in our rearview mirror, it’s time to take a look at possible Ethernet speeds in 2023 and the techniques that will help get us there.

I’m surprised at the number of people who know that 400 Gigabit/second Ethernet (400GbE) is being developed now in IEEE 802.3. Depending on number and the difficulty of the objectives, the 400GbE standard will likely be completed in 2016, give or take a year. Figure 1 shows a linear plot of the speeds of Ethernet versus time:

Figure 1: Ethernet Speeds Are Growing Exponentially

When viewed on a linear scale, the growth in the speeds of Ethernet seems to be accelerating, but the rate of growth is actually slowing down. When plotted on the log scale shown in Figure 2, the rate of growth can be seen slowing considerably from the early years of Ethernet. From 100Mb/s Ethernet to 1 GbE, the speed grew 10X in 3 years so that it was more than doubling every year, reaching an average of 116 percent each year. If 400GbE is standardized in 2016, that will yield an average of about 26 percent during each year between 100GbE and 400GbE. There are many decisions that the industry will need to make to determine the speed of Ethernet in 2023;  I’ve drawn two curves beyond 400GbE, one showing Terabit speeds in 2023 and one that does not.

Figure 2: Ethernet Speed Jumps Are Decelerating. If the slowing trend continues, then Terabit Ethernet will not be standardized by 2023.

 

Ethernet’s speed is dependent on the speeds that transistors, lasers, copper, fiber, printed circuit boards, and other components can turn on and off. Like the speed of microprocessors that have peaked at a few GHz, current signaling techniques are expected to reach limits in the few tens of Gbit/s during the next decade. Figure 3 shows historic electrical signaling trends used in Ethernet and how signaling increases have slowed to an average of about 11 percent annually between 10Gb/s and  25Gb/s.  Further increases in speed will be slower unless significant changes in technology are adopted.

Figure 3: Electrical Signaling Rates vs. Time.  This chart shows how growth of electrical signaling speeds are decelerating but new technologies can help the industry achieve 100Gb/s serial signaling. 

 

Most people I talk to think that 100Gb/s signaling is required to reach Terabit/second speeds. The leading candidates for Terabit Ethernet are 10 or 16 lanes of 100Gb/s to achieve 1.0 or 1.6Tb/s. Figure 3 shows that we’ll need a significant jump in technology to reach 100Gb/s lanes by 2023. Several techniques can be used to increase signaling speed, including better materials, shorter supported distances, and advanced modulation. Faster individual lanes will be used in parallel, but the maximum parallel lanes used by Ethernet until now have been 16 lanes (10G defined 16-lane XSBI and 400GbE is expected to define 16-lane CDAUI). While the industry has many tools for getting to Terabit/second speeds, the trick is to use the right technology at the right time to lower the cost/bit for new speeds.

These topics and techniques for faster signaling were covered in great detail during TEF 2013, with the most relevant panel being The Next Optical Eco-system – 100 Gb/s Signaling led by my fellow board member Matt Traverso.  The Promises of Photonic Integration panel, led by Dale Murray, also discussed relevant technologies to developing terabit speeds. The industry is facing significant challenges to standardizing TbE by 2023, but it is an achievable goal if we unite our resources, focus our energies and invest in the future.

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the individual(s) and should not be considered the views or positions of the Ethernet Alliance.

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Ethernet: Not a Moment in Time

By John D'Ambrosia

This weekend I was helping my oldest son with homework for his “Introduction to Geometry” class. As we were working through his first foray into proofs, I made the comment that one of the things I always liked about math was that there was a correct answer that was not based on someone’s opinion.  This led to a discussion of how I got into engineering, and what had motivated me to become an engineer.  My answer was simple, “I wanted to be a Disney Imagineer.”  I remembered that backstage tour of Disney, and how much of an impact it had on me. 

It’s ironic looking back now that as I was contemplating my major in college, Ethernet was emerging from its first year as a ratified standard.  In that time Ethernet has progressively moved from 10 Mb/s to 100 Mb/s to 1 Gb/s to 10 Gb/s to 40Gb/s and 100 Gb/s.  And as many of you may know, I am leading the IEEE 802.3 Study Group that is contemplating 400 Gb/s Ethernet.  It covers distances up to a few inches on a printed circuit board to 40 km.  It has moved out of enterprise networks, and is everywhere today.  In fact, at last year’s Superbowl, Power Over Ethernet is what kept wireless networks working when the power went out.  Ethernet has changed and evolved, and as a result is changing the world.

Metcalfe’s Law states the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system.  It should be noted that the value itself is not noted.  In essence, Ethernet is driving networking of the world and has had a cultural, economic, and social impact on the world today.

In 2013 we celebrate 40 years of Ethernet and 30 years of Ethernet standards.  On October 15 the Ethernet Alliance will kicki-off the Technology Exploration Forum 2013 (TEF 2013), a two-day event to contemplate the future of Ethernet which will bring together the brightest minds of the Ethernet industry to discuss and contemplate today, tomorrow and beyond.  From its synergist interaction with complimentary networking technologies to the very technologies that will power Ethernet to its future to its expansion into new application areas, Ethernet is not a moment or point in time, but an era whose end is not yet in sight.

For those in the Santa Clara area, take a moment to review the Ethernet Alliance’s Technology Exploration Forum’s 2013 agenda at http://ethernetalliance.org/the-future-of-ethernet-agenda/.  With Bob Metcalfe, the father of Ethernet, as the event keynote, and a roomful of the Ethernet industry’s best and brightest, this will be an exciting two days.   TEF 2013 will be held October 15 and 16 in Santa Clara at the Techmart Facility in Santa Clara, CA.  Further details can be found at http://ethernetalliance.org/event-details-registration/.  We look forward to seeing you there!

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the individual(s) and should not be considered the views or positions of the Ethernet Alliance.

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