Cisco's Gigabit Ethernet plan will lower costs

Cisco Systems next year plans to enable its Catalyst switch family to support the switching of Gigabit Ethernet speeds over copper wires, enabling enterprises to improve network speeds without costly upgrades to fibre, according to Cisco officials.

The company hopes to offer the products when copper support becomes available in a wide range of form factors next year.

The initial implementation would be fixed-configuration systems. But the company plans to eventually extend copper support to more modular Gigabit Ethernet Converter interfaces for greater expandability.

The company also plans to expand its Catalyst 4000 LAN switch line in 2000 to support the processing of voice calls. Currently a Layer 2-only product, the system will also support Layer 3 switching, according to the company.

Advantages of Layer 3 switching include faster and less expensive data movement than traditional routing because switching occurs in hardware rather than software.

Use of Gigabit Ethernet over copper wiring has been held up recently by delays in chips that implement the technology. Originally scheduled for preliminary shipments in 1998, sample chips did not become available until last Autumn.

"The big benefit [of Gigabit Ethernet over copper] is cost," said Dave Passmore, research director at NetReference, a network consulting company in Sterling, Virginia. The elimination of an electrical-to-optical transceiver cuts as much as $US100 off the cost of a network interface card, he said.

Cisco is among several companies concentrating on providing Gigabit Ethernet-over-copper functionality, a technology that is expected to be adopted rapidly once it is widely available.

At the NetWorld+Interop conference in Las Vegas last May, Cisco, Alteon, and Hewlett-Packard demonstrated preliminary versions of their products.

Nortel next Autumn plans to support Gigabit Ethernet on the company's Accelar 8000 platform. 3Com has detailed plans for unveiling a switch with Gigabit Ethernet functionality over copper wiring.

Chip developer Broadcom has been key to the development of chips for deploying Gigabit Ethernet over copper. The company unveiled such chips at the spring NetWorld+Interop conference. Rival Level One Systems also has been vying for its share of the potentially lucrative market.

Broadcom in September performed a Gigabit Ethernet-over-copper interoperability test that involved 12 network-equipment vendors and utilized the company's BCN5400 1000Base-T Gigabit Ethernet transceiver for copper wiring. Among the participants were 3Com, Alteon, Extreme Networks, Foundry Networks, HP, and Intel.

Broadcom expects to ship the BCM5400 this month, according to the Irvine, California-based company.

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