Multi-gigabits over the installed base of twisted-pair cabling

Nov. 4, 2014
An industry alliance launched in late October is on a mission to squeeze the most throughput possible out of the installed base of twisted-pair copper cabling.

From the November, 2014 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine

An industry alliance launched in late October is on a mission to squeeze the most throughput possible out of the installed base of twisted-pair copper cabling. On October 27 the NBase-T Alliance announced itself to the world, headlined by Cisco and also including Aquantia, Freescale and Xilinx.

The alliance said it was established "to promote the development of 2.5- and 5-Gigabit Ethernet technology for enterprise infrastructure," and that its founding "aligns with the demand for a unified approach to the deployment of faster data rates on twisted-pair copper cables matching the bandwidth increase driven by 802.11ac Wave 2 access points and other applications."

The alliance made it clear that if it is successful, the installed base of Category 5e and Category 6 cabling will remain in place and support multi-gigabit transmission. "Category 5e and Category 6 twisted-pair copper cables are by far the most common in local area networks. Cat 5e or Cat 6 cables do not support 10 Gigabit Ethernet up to 100 meters, hence the need for intermediate rates ... The NBase-T Alliance founding companies teamed up to provide the development of 2.5- and 5-Gigabit Ethernet over Cat 5e and Cat 6 cables with Power over Ethernet, extending the life of the installed cable plant ..."

The alliance's debut came soon after Aquantia's announcement of its AQrate technology, which essentially is the silicon that makes these data rates possible. When AQrate was announced, I mentioned to Aquantia's vice president of sales and marketing, Kamal Dalmia, the top frequencies to which these cabling types are specified (100 MHz for 5e and 250 MHz for 6). And I asked what AQrate's top operating frequency is. It's 200 MHz. Given that, it strikes me that users may be more comfortable running 2.5- or 5-G over Cat 6 than over Cat 5e. But that's not necessarily how the NBase-T Alliance sees it.

Dalmia's comment to me was, "In our testing with real silicon and real cables, we have found that 5G runs on 100 meters of Cat 5e cables. It will be up to the OEMs and cable industry how they resolve the difference between an old spec [Cat 5e's 100-Mhz limit] and capabilities of modern silicon."

Indeed it will.

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