In recent years, Ethernet cable has become the artery that links corporate data through LANs and WANs. It has redefined the workplace and ushered in a new era of communication. However, as video, voice, and data converge over existing networks to produce rich multimedia content, the resulting bottleneck can drain system performance. Too often, conventional Ethernet cabling doesn't provide enough bandwidth, while fiber cabling is prohibitively expensive. Until recently there wasn't a practical solution. But in May Broadcom introduced the world's first Gigabit Ethernet transceiver chip, which operates at a maximum speed of 1,000 Mbit/second. The new chip allows organizations to use existing copper cabling but put network performance into overdrive. And that makes it possible to upgrade network performance at half the cost of a major fiber upgrade. "There's an insatiable need for bandwidth, and this technology provides a viable solution," states Martin Colombatto, vice president and general manager of the firm's networking division. "It allows people to send huge files over a network and use videoconferencing and IP telephony effectively." The project, initiated in 1996, presented formidable technical barriers for Broadcom. Engineers had to scale digital signal-processing functions down to the transistor level while using complex algorithms and compression methods. In fact, the device, which holds some 3.5 million transistors, can handle a staggering 250 billion operations per second, says Colombatto. The company began shipping the Gigabit Ethernet transceiver chip in October. Already it has support from industry heavyweights such as Cisco Systems, Nortel, Hewlett-Packard, and 3Com."It's something that can be deployed today to offer the network capabilities of tomorrow," says Colombatto. John Teresko, John Sheridan, Tim Stevens, Doug Bartholomew, Patricia Panchak, Tonya Vinas, Samuel Greengard, Kristin Ohlson, and Barbara Schmitz contributed to this article.