Ethernet innovation pits power against speed

Achieving Ethernet speeds of a terabit per second and beyond means overcoming technical obstacles of optics, power and network architecture.

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While the move to 400G Ethernet has so far been a largely hyperscaler and telco-network event, the ambition for those users, as well as data-center customers is ultimately to  move to at least 800Gbps and possibly 1.6Tbps.

And while 800Gbps seems to be a solid goal for Ethernet networking visionaries, the challenges—such as the optics, power, and architecture required to make the next speed leap—seem formidable.

The need for increased speed in data centers and cloud services is driven by myriad things including the continued growth of hyperscale networks from players like Google, Amazon and Facebook, but also the more distributed cloud, artificial intelligence, video, and mobile-application workloads that current and future networks will support.

Another driver is that global IP traffic is expected to grow to 396 exabytes per month by 2022, up from 177EB in 2017, according to the IEEE 802.3 Industry Connections ethernet Bandwidth Assessment from April 2020. Underlying factors, such as increasing number of users, increasing access rates and methods, and increasing services, all point to continuing growth in demand for bandwidth, the report stated.

And there has been significant industry activity to move faster Ethernet technologies along. For example, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the IEEE Standards Association at the end of 2020 formed the IEEE 802.3 Beyond 400 Gbps ethernet Study Group.

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