Dell'Oro: Lower end switches drive Ethernet growth

Fast Ethernet still dominates the Ethernet switch market, Dell'Oro says.

More than five years after Gigabit Ethernet hit the market and despite the technology coming standard on most new business PCs, an earlier class of switches that dominated the market in the late 1990s is still used in most LANs, according to the latest switch report by Dell'Oro Group.

Total Ethernet switch revenue in the fourth quarter of 2005 grew about 3 percent from the previous quarter, but revenue from sales of fixed managed Fast Ethernet switches increased 5 percent, according to Seamus Crehan, an analyst at Dell'Oro, in Redwood City, California. This type of switch accounted for about 57 percent of all Ethernet switch ports sold, he said.

Fixed managed Fast Ethernet switches come with a set number of ports and don't have slots to accommodate different modules. They use 100Mbps (bits per second) interfaces, generally for connecting PCs to a LAN, and can be configured remotely via software. This type of switch has dominated the market since about 1998, Crehan said, with about 24.3 million ports sold in the fourth quarter.

Increasing demand in developing countries has helped to drive sales of these switches, which generally are less expensive than modular chassis switches, Crehan said. Service providers also are deploying them for a growing number of Ethernet services for businesses. But a significant driver is sales to small businesses and enterprises that are upgrading to models with more advanced features for IP (Internet Protocol) telephony, security, wireless LANs and critical productivity applications, he said. Those added features have helped keep the prices of fixed managed Fast Ethernet switches stable even as the cost of basic components has fallen: An average port on this type of switch cost US$32 in 2005's fourth quarter, down only slightly from US$35 a year earlier, according to Dell'Oro.

Meanwhile, Gigabit Ethernet has not taken the desktop by storm in most organizations even about five years after it became available for traditional copper-cable LANs, Crehan said. Although sales of Gigabit Ethernet ports grew 77 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, compared with just 16 percent for Fast Ethernet, they reached just 15.4 million against 105 million Fast Ethernet ports, he said. Half of those Gigabit Ethernet ports probably are not used for desktop connections but rather for LAN backbones or uplinks from Fast Ethernet desktop switches, Crehan said.

Only large enterprises have widely embraced Gigabit Ethernet, Crehan said, partly because the price difference between the two technologies is less for modular switches. Smaller organizations with fixed switches, on which the faster technology costs about four times as much, are less likely to make the investment.

Cisco Systems dominates the market for fixed managed Fast Ethernet switches, as it does for Ethernet switches as a whole, according to Dell'Oro. But another strong performer is Hewlett-Packard Co.'s ProCurve division, a rising star in LANs that relies on this category for more of its sales than Cisco. HP ProCurve has about 10 percent of the market, measured in ports, compared with more than 56 percent for Cisco. 3Com Corp. came in third place in the quarter, followed by Allied Telesyn and Nortel Networks, Crehan said.

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