US analysts CIR have predicted that new Ethernet standards on the way will kill off SONET by 2016, just eight years away, and that 40Gbit/s Ethernet will be the mid-term winner ahead of 100G Ethernet.

In the past, Ethernet speeds have risen by a factor of 10 with each new generation. However, 100Gbit/s is proving a technological challenge, plus there are many established applications - such as SONET and its cousin SDH - which run at around 40Gbit/s and could be replaced by Ethernet-based technology.

The CIR analysts forecast that as a result, the 40G Ethernet market will be worth $3.1 billion worldwide by 2016, as against $1.2 billion for 100G.

In a report on next-generation Ethernet specs, titled The Path to 100 Gbps Networks, the analysts suggested that 40G will score because it is more in tune with server and telecoms needs, whereas 100G will mainly be for inter-switch trunks - and of course there are many more servers than switch trunks. By comparison, 10G Ethernet took off first in switch trunking.

"Much of the current standards activity for next-gen Ethernet is being carried out with servers in mind," the report's authors said. "Servers will account for just over 40 percent of the 40/100 Gbit/s Ethernet market by 2016."

The analysts added that they already see datacentres aggregating 10G links for extra performance, and said that there is considerable pent-up demand for 40G Ethernet as a result.

"The new Ethernet standards will mark the end of the 'cold war' that has existed between the datacoms and telecoms industries since the 1980s," they said.

"In the future Ethernet will lead the way in speed. The ITU will follow by encapsulating these formats into its own Optical Transport Network which will gradually replace SONET/SDH. This new stability in the standards making process will reduce the risk of investment in new chips and optical components needed for the next leap forward in networking to occur."