Is Gigabit Ethernet over Copper Picking Up Speed?

With the lion's share of the market running some iteration of Ethernet, the prospects for Gigabit Ethernet over copper cabling looked promising. Unfortunately, the numbers never stacked up the way industry pundits predicted. However, that may be changing...

By Lynn Haber | Posted Oct 11, 2001
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With the lions share of the market running some iteration of Ethernet, the prospects for adoption of the most recently approved Ethernet standard, or IEEE 802.3ab, for Gigabit Ethernet over copper cabling, looked promising. However, the numbers never stacked up the way industry pundits predicted. With no reversal in the corporate need for network speed, why arent businesses biting?

The truth of the matter is that businesses are very keen on Gigabit Ethernet over copper. The problem for the slow uptake of Gigabit Ethernet over copper products has more to do with slower than expected product shipments than lack of market enthusiasm, according to industry watchers.

Despite the fact that the IEEE approved 802.3ab in June 1999, all the bugs in the silicon werent worked out in 1999, which meant that significant system sales didnt begin until late 2Q of 2000. Furthermore, significant purchasing volumes only became evident in Q3 2000, says Lauri Vickers, senior analyst at Cahners In-Stat Group. "As a result, prices havent dropped," she adds.

Initial market research reports from Cahners forecasted worldwide revenue of one billion dollars for the Gigabit Ethernet over copper product market for the year 2000, and port shipments of over one billion units. Later, readjusted forecasts from Cahners lowered revenue expectations at $70 million and 110,000-115,000 ports shipped for the same year.

Pricing per port for copper-based Gigabit Ethernet products are about one-third lower than for fiber, which is around $1,000 per port. Copper-based 1000Based-T ports are currently about $700 and, by year-end, prices are expected to drop to $500 per port. However, 3Com Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., rolled out a $300 per port solution for Gigabit Ethernet over copper which competitors have yet to match. Even at $300 per port, the cost for 1000Base-T is still about three times the price of Fast Ethernet ports, or $100 per port.

"Were pushing the price envelope on server NICs to unleash a wave of [Gigabit Ethernet over copper] adoption," says Paula Daley, director of marketing at 3Com.

The cost/performance proposition for Gigabit Ethernet over copper makes sense for businesses of all sizes. For larger enterprises with fiber cabling, the industry has already seen migration to Gigabit Ethernet. The copper-based standard is expected to spur additional momentum in those network locations where Category 5, 5e or 6 cabling prevails, for example, at the server, server farms or to the wiring closet that is located on each floor within a building.

According to Daley, the continuing deployment of 10/100Mbps Ethernet at the edge of the network is driving the demand for Gigabit Ethernet at the core, or aggregation point, of the LAN. Additionally, she notes, as e-commerce applications require faster and more reliable response times, theres a growing demand for Gigabit Ethernet as a server connection technology.

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