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Ethernet Moves Toward Universal Broadband Access

The Ethernet standard got a shot in the arm Tuesday towards its goal of becoming a Universal Broadband Access technology.

The Fremont, Calif.-based Ethernet in the First Mile Alliance (EFMA) said the IEEE 802.3ah EFM Task Force has reached consensus on a complete set of baseline technical proposals that will provide the foundation of the Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM) standard.

The variation of the popular LAN standards specifies the physical and lower software layers. Ethernet uses the CSMA/CD access method to handle simultaneous demands.

The IEEE 802.3ah EFM Task Force is chartered with developing the IEEE EFM standard and is part of the IEEE 802.3 Working Group, which is responsible for the development of all Ethernet standards.

The EFM Study Group said it has identified several key objectives that will be used to evaluate technical proposals brought before the 802.3ah Task Force. They include support of three subscriber access network topologies and physical layers: point to point copper over the existing copper plant at speeds of at least 10 Mbps up to at least 750 m; point to point optical fiber over a single fiber at a speed of 1000 Mbps up to at least 10 km; and point to multipoint fiber at a speed of 1000 Mbps up to at least 10 km.

The project will also define operations, administration, and maintenance (OAM) for EFM, which includes remote failure indication, remote loopback, and link monitoring.

Adoption of the baseline proposals is the third major milestone in the IEEE standardization process and provides the basis upon which the editors will now write the first draft of the EFM standard.

The previous milestones include the formation of a Study Group in November of 2000 and the approval of a PAR (Project Authorization Request) during in the summer of 2001.

"This milestone marks significant consensus on critical issues and puts us on a path for the first draft of the specification to be completed in September 2002," said EMFAVice President of Technology and Cisco Gigabit Systems Business Unit manager Bruce Tolley. "A successful standard process will be the key driving factor in the development of low-cost, interoperable Ethernet broadband access equipment from multiple vendors, and will enable the deployment of Ethernet broadband services in public subscriber networks."

During last week's IEEE 802 meeting, held July 7-11 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, more than 100 members of the IEEE 802.3ah EFM Task Force met to discuss and agree upon a detailed set of technical proposals that will outline the specifics of the specification.

Since November 2000 more than 200 individuals from over 80 companies have participated in an IEEE study group, which formally became the IEEE 802.3ah EFM Task Force in September 2001.

In support, several companies delivered technical presentations to the IEEE 802.3 EFM Study Group at the July 802 Plenary meeting. The list includes more than 31 tech leaders including Agilent , Cisco Systems , Intel and Nortel Networks .

With the new standard, IEEE said Network operators would have the freedom to choose among these topologies and physical layers based on their business models and network architecture plans. Many network operators will build or upgrade their access networks with products based on multiple EFM technologies that are managed with common tools and OAM procedures.

IEEE said Ethernet on point-to-point copper is ideally suited to exploit the existing voice-grade copper infrastructure, as well as fiber to the curb/neighborhood deployments. The group also said Ethernet on point-to-point copper is also ideal for buildings with voice grade wiring.

When new media is to be installed in a greenfield, overbuild, or rehabilitation application, single mode fiber is the optimal choice. The selection between point-to-point or point-to-multipoint topologies is driven by business and technical factors: distance between facilities, network architecture, existing investment models, revenue generation potential, cost of capital, financial plans, and assumptions about future applications, just to name a few.

Howard Frazier, chairman of the EFM Study Group, said that he expects the IEEE-Standards Association Standards Board to approve the PAR at their meeting September 11-13, 2001 in Piscataway, NJ. This will be the formal authorization to draft and conduct ballots on the draft specification.

The first meeting of the 802.3ah Task Force is expected to follow a week later in Copenhagen, Denmark. At this meeting, the group will formally adopt the proposed objectives and timeline, and begin evaluating technical proposals.

A newer version of Ethernet, called 100Base-T (or Fast Ethernet), supports data transfer rates of 100 Mbps. And the newest version, Gigabit Ethernet supports data rates of 1 gigabit (1,000 megabits) per second.