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Cisco, others pushing 2.5G, 5G Ethernet

Companies look to fill gap between 1G and 10G on existing copper

Cisco and three other vendors have formed an alliance to promote the development of 2.5 and 5 Gigabit Ethernet technology for enterprise networks. The other three participants in the NBASE-T Alliance are silicon, semiconductor and IC companies Aquantia, Freescale and Xilinx.

The objective of the nonprofit alliance is to enable multi-gigabit Ethernet speeds on existing Gigabit Ethernet cabling. Alliance members say there’s demand for a unified approach to the deployment of faster data rates on Cat5e and Cat6 twisted-pair copper cables matching the bandwidth increase driven by 802.11ac Wave 2 Access Points and other technologies, such as 802.11ad, 802.11ax and LiFi.

Cat 5e and Cat6 do not support 10G Ethernet up to 100 meters, which is why there’s a need for intermediate rates between 1 and 10G, the alliance says. Alliance members are promoting the development of 2.5G and 5G Ethernet to extend the life of the installed cable plant.

According to Cisco, 52% of mobile data traffic will be offloaded from cellular networks to the fixed network through WiFi in 2018, increasing the amount of wireless data transmitted over WLAN in enterprise branch and campus networks. As the Wave 2 of 802.11ac WiFi is rolled out, traffic aggregated on APs will surpass multiple gigabits per second and require both the access point and the Ethernet switch ports to scale beyond 1G.

The alliance is incorporated in Delaware as a nonprofit organization. While it is promoting advancement of 2.5G and 5G Ethernet, it is up to the IEEE to standardize the data rates.

The IEEE plans to explore 2.5G and 5G Ethernet at its plenary meeting next week, according to David Chalupsky, Technical Chair of the Ethernet Alliance BASE-T Subcommittee and IEEE 40GBASE-T Task Force:

The formation of the NBASE-T Alliance, which is targeting BASE-T technologies in the range of 2.5G to 5G, is a perfect example of Ethernet’s continuing expansion into an array of different application spaces, each with their own requirements and needs.  It also demonstrates the synergy between Ethernet and IEEE 802.11 wireless technologies, as the introduction of IEEE 802.11ac will create a scenario where the wired uplinks from wireless access points will exceed the current bandwidth capabilities of today’s Gigabit Ethernet networks.  Cat 5e cabling, which is not specified to support 10GBASE-T operation, is commonly deployed in these networks’ infrastructures.  Thus, there is an industry conundrum - how can an upgrade path be provided for this existing application space.  This is a large opportunity, as the need will exist in a variety of use cases: corporate office spaces, carrier and municipal WiFi… even sports stadiums.   

The formation of the alliance and the Call For Interest scheduled for the IEEE 802 November Plenary next week, have suddenly brought this need into the public view.  The NBASE-T Alliance will clearly help enable consensus building between its members, but the development of such a specification by the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group would help ensure a robust interoperable specification, the hallmark of Ethernet. 

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