by David Fair, Product Marketing, Networking Division, Intel Corporation

 

Odd title for a networking article, don’t you think?  It’s odd for a couple of reasons, but reasons that reveal the vibrancy of Ethernet.  For four decades, Ethernet advanced on a “powers-of-ten” model from an initial 10 Mbps to 100 to 1GbE to 10GbE.  Part of why that worked was that the ratified IEEE Ethernet speeds kept well ahead of most market requirements.  Moving an entire Ethernet ecosystem to a new speed is expensive for everyone.  The “powers-of-ten” model helped control those costs.

 

What changed?  Well, my theory is that Ethernet simply got too successful for the powers-of-ten model.  By that I mean that the volumes got large enough for some specific requirements at more fine-grained speeds to warrant infrastructure upgrades to support those speeds. 

 

It is the rapid growth of wireless access points and increases in their speed specifically that creates the problem leading to a desire Next Generation Enterprise Access BASE-T.   Not in the data center but rather in the office.  Most have built out a wireless infrastructure with CAT 5e or 6 in the ceilings connecting wireless access points at 1GbE, in addition to connecting wired desktops and workstations.  But the latest wireless spec, IEEE 802.11ac can drive bandwidth back on the wire well beyond 1GbE.  And some of those desktops and workstations may be chomping at the bit as well, so to speak, to go faster than 1GbE.  The problem is that the next “powers of 10” solution from the IEEE, 10GBASE-T won’t work on CAT 5e and will work on CAT 6 only to 55 meters.

 

As often happens in these situations, alliances establish themselves to build momentum to influence the IEEE to consider their proposal.  In this case, there are now two such groups calling themselves the “NBASE-T Alliance” and the “MGBASE-T Alliance” respectively.  Both are proposing intermediate “step-down” speeds of 2.5 Mbps and 5 Mbps.

 

To learn more about 2.5G/5G technology and standardization related efforts, please join the Ethernet Alliance for its upcoming “Ethernet 104: Introduction to 2.5G/5G BASE-T Ethernet” webinar on Thursday, May 21, 2015, at 10am PDT. Additional information is available, and registration is now open at http://bit.ly/Ethernet104 .