The Road Ahead: 2024 Trends & Opportunities for Ethernet
What does the future hold for Ethernet? Ethernet Alliance leaders and members share their thoughts and predictions for 2024.
1. What will the next 50 years hold for Ethernet?
“Ethernet will be everywhere and affect everyone – even if they don’t know it. The 50th anniversary marked a major milestone for one of the most important technologies underlying the Internet revolution. It’s important to help people to understand the impact of Ethernet so they can fit it into their worldview.” – Ethernet Alliance Chair, Peter Jones of Cisco
“Determining the course of Ethernet into the next five decades is a daunting proposition at best. Who could have predicted the expansive adaptation of Ethernet over the last 50 years and how broadly it’s used in our world today? Beyond the current work on 200Gb/lane high-speed Ethernet today, we’ll see advancements in modulation and signaling that will provide for the possibility of 800Gb/lane solutions and 6.4Tb connections over 8-lane QSFP-DD and OSFP ports. Generally, there will be no limit to the applications where wired and wireless Ethernet will be deployed within the next 50 years.” – Ethernet Alliance Events & Conferences Chair David J. Rodgers of EXFO
“In the next 50 years, we will see Ethernet continuing to push the limits to increase speeds, while expanding its reach into even more markets and industries.” – Ethernet Alliance Board Member David Estes of Spirent
2. What impact will AI and machine learning (ML) have on the evolution of Ethernet?
“The push for 200Gb/lane and greater speeds will be a critical component of the AI/ML market. As evidenced with the emergence of the Ultra Ethernet Consortium, the major suppliers and users of high-speed compute are leveraging the success of Ethernet standards to advance AI/ML designs.
Without the stability and reliability of Ethernet, the AI/ML market would be near impossible to advance in a cost-effective and meaningful way.” – Ethernet Alliance Events & Conferences Chair David J. Rodgers of EXFO
3. What opportunities for automotive Ethernet do you see in the coming years?
“Today’s automotive applications use Ethernet running at 100Mbps and 1Gbps speeds. Thanks to newer automotive Ethernet standards, car OEMs are going to use 10Mbps Ethernet to replace legacy networks and adopt 10Gbps/5Gbps/2.5Gbps Ethernet for bandwidth-hungry applications such as ADAS and Zonal backbone. Software-defined vehicle architectures will continue to rely on automotive Ethernet to build a scalable and secure network with end-to-end connectivity for rolling out new features, over-the-air updates, and more.” – Ethernet Alliance Board Member Kishore Racherla of Broadcom
“The world of automotive travel will evolve to include the “intelligent” roadway and Ethernet will be the backbone of the connection between the roads and vehicles. Vehicular Ethernet is already on the forefront of adoption and will continue to enhance the travel experience, quite likely obviating the need for a driver in tomorrow’s car.” – Ethernet Alliance Events & Conferences Chair David J. Rodgers of EXFO
4. What does the future look like for Ethernet cables, connectors, and modules with the introduction of higher speeds?
“For rack-scale connectivity, the future of Ethernet cables with 400GbE and 800GbE is bright, and there is light at the end of the tunnel for optical modules with 1.6TbE.” – Ethernet Alliance member Priyank Shukla of Synopsys
“The analogy of ‘a chain is only as strong as the weakest link’ comes to mind when considering the future of interconnect in the Ethernet Ecosystem. The speed of today’s Ethernet is already proving to be a challenge for continued use of copper cabling. Active copper cables are an interim solution for connections less than 3m, consequently the market for optical connections is blossoming. New optical solutions are on the horizon with a promise of lowering cost of connection, energy use, and simplification of connections.” – Ethernet Alliance Events & Conferences Chair David J. Rodgers of EXFO
5. When will 800G/s and 1.6Tb/s become standardized?
“Practical and implementable standards to ensure multi-vendor interoperability for 800GbE is expected in 2024 and 1.6TbE by 2025.” – Ethernet Alliance member Priyank Shukla of Synopsys
6. When will 800G/s and 1.6Tb/s become widely adopted?
“High Performance Compute and AI/ML clusters will be the first adopters of these technologies and will deploy 800GbE by 2025 and 1.6TbE by early 2027.” – Ethernet Alliance member Priyank Shukla of Synopsys
7. What do you see as the potential for lower-speed Ethernet (for example, 10BASE-T1L) for OT applications?
“OT applications are a huge opportunity for Ethernet as Building/Industrial Automation evolves. The demand for data and control is driving the OT transition from legacy protocols to modern IP stacks. Ethernet standards designed for these environments (e.g., long reach, noise immunity) are key to adopting modern protocols without significant restructuring of major facilities.” – Ethernet Alliance Chair, Peter Jones of Cisco
8. Where do you see the Power over Ethernet (PoE) market heading?
“I expect continued expansion of the types of PoE devices adopted in the market. People will be mobile, but lots of “things” (like building control systems) will be fixed. PoE is an optimized solution providing power and data on a single link and is part of the evolution of DC micro-grids for energy sustainability.” – Ethernet Alliance Chair, Peter Jones of Cisco
“PoE will become a large and invaluable part of the intelligent home, connecting more user appliances, entertainment, security, and communications products into a more cohesive, easily managed consumer network.” – Ethernet Alliance Events & Conferences Chair David J. Rodgers of EXFO
9. What role do plugfests play in the future of Ethernet?
“Plugfests are a key element enabling Ethernet’s promise of seamless interoperability and ‘you plug it in and it just works’. Plugfests are a classic example of “coopetition” where the ecosystem gets together to do what’s needed to deliver the user experience that is a core part of Ethernet’s success.” – Ethernet Alliance Chair, Peter Jones of Cisco
“Plugfests will always be part of proving Ethernet’s viability by facilitating interoperability whether using copper or optical fiber for the interconnect medium. The standard fosters multiple suppliers of copper cables or optical transceiver modules, while system integration relies upon the use of an electrical interface. In the IEEE 802.3™ standard, the electrical interface defined for optical transceiver modules is optional and not mandatory in determining claim of Ethernet compliance for the system. The optional electrical interface is quite prevalent, and widely adopted across industry segments. The notable one is the Attachment Unit Interface (AUI), a retimed interface that provides for a strong demarcation of interop at the “plug” where the optical transceiver module connects with the host electrically. The retiming is achieved using a DSP that also plays a strong role in supporting the optics themselves. With each new higher speed of Ethernet, the power consumption and latency has increased for these DSPs. The DSP is seen to contribute to half of the dissipated power and the latency is comparable to the latency of the forward error correction present in the host ASIC. These attributes are seen as detrimental to AI/ML buildouts, and much interest has emerged to remove them. This is prompting innovation that is resulting in a need for new host-to-module electrical interfaces, in turn prompting the need for defining comprehensive standards complete enough that future plugfests can verify interoperation as with the use of retimed interfaces at the ‘plug’.” – Ethernet Alliance Treasurer Jeffery Maki of Juniper
“The value of Ethernet Alliance interoperability plugfests can not be overstated. Ethernet’s success in today’s market is most certainly predicated on the commitment to testing the ecosystem of products in a controlled and collaborative environment. The multitude of designs and implementations of Ethernet require comprehensive and complete testing to ensure products and applications will work together. If there was only one thing the Ethernet Alliance provided to its membership and the market as a whole, it’s hosting these engineering plugfest events.” – Ethernet Alliance Events & Conferences Chair David J. Rodgers of EXFO
10. What role do interoperability demos at shows like OFC and ECOC play in the adoption of future Ethernet standards?
“Interoperability demos illustrate the emerging prevalence in the adoption of new Ethernet standards. This is especially important when new aspects are needed to assure interoperation. There could be new optical and electrical equalization techniques relying on proper host management of the optical modules. Or there may be use of auto-negotiation and link training for electrical interfaces as we see used between systems interconnected with passive copper cable. The new electrical interfaces mentioned in regards to plugfests will be of keen interest to prove functionality. More sophistication may be asked of these demos to prove out secondary aspects such as link-flap recovery time or the ability to support fast reroute.” – Ethernet Alliance Treasurer Jeffery Maki of Juniper
“A natural extension of the confidential plugfests is the public demonstration of new products interoperating in a ‘real world’ environment. Ethernet Alliance interop demos directly show that new products are functioning as intended and are often the key attraction for consumers looking to incorporate the latest technology into their existing data centers and enterprises.” – Ethernet Alliance Events & Conferences Chair David J. Rodgers of EXFO