By Patrick McLaughlin
If the high-data-rate applications 25 and 40GBASE-T can be compared to high-performance automobiles, and the cabling systems upon which they’ll run can be compared to highways, then the current state of the technological market is that the plans for those highways have been approved. There are no actual highways built yet, but that’s not holding up the process, because there also are no high-performance automobiles ready to race up and down them. Such is the status of Category 8 cabling systems and 25/40GBASE-T Ethernet systems.
The “plans have been approved” analogy refers to the respective standards for these technologies. In June the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) approved the Category 8 specs, ANSI/TIA-568-C.2-1. Very shortly thereafter the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) approved the 25/40GBase-T specifications, officially titled 802.3bq Standard for Ethernet Amendment: Physical Layer and Management Parameters for 25 Gb/s and 40 Gb/s Operation, Types 25GBASE-T and 40GBASE-T. The development of each standard was a multiple-year process.
In August Masood Shariff, an engineer senior principal with CommScope, authored a post on the company’s blog titled “Intense development leads to Category 8 twisted-pair standard.” In that post he explained, “Category 8 cabling quadruples the specified bandwidth of balanced twisted-pair cabling from 500 MHz to 2000 MHz. This quadrupling of cabling bandwidth is utilized by the 40GBASE-T application to quadruple the previous maximum BASE-T data rate of 10 GB to a new maximum of 40 GB. The higher data rate was achieved while preserving backward compatibility, standardized RJ45 interfaces and cabling that is very similar to previous categories in size and installation practices. These higher data rates are supported over a maximum reach of 30 meters of cabling with two connections sufficient to serve a row of 20 cabinets or racks in equipment rooms or data centers.”
Shariff continued, “Category 8 enables high-speed applications to use mid-span and end-span switch placements with structured cabling between the switches and servers. This allows for better port utilization and more flexible changes to both equipment and servers since the cabling is independent of the network equipment, supporting multiple types and generations of equipment.”
When the IEEE 802.3bq specifications were under development, Siemon, in its Standards Informant blog, characterized the upcoming 25G application as “one to watch” in a post titled “25GBASE-T to optimize migration to 40GBASE-T.” In that post the company asked and answered, “Is there a sweet spot for data centers transitioning from 10GBASE-T to higher speeds? Based on recent market surveys and technical feasibility analysis, the answer is definitely yes. Trends for cloud servers and the latest forecast on server port needs … lead to the conclusion that 25GBASE-T is a critical and heretofore lacking point on the migration roadmap to 40GBASE-T. In addition, multiple feasibility presentations have clearly demonstrated that 25GBASE-T can allow users to leverage capital investment and research-and-development in 10GBASE-T and 40GBASE-T technology to optimize deployment costs as server and switch data speeds incrementally increase.”
A set of standard specifications from the International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/IEC), also intended to define twisted-pair infrastructure supporting 25 and 40-Gbit/sec transmission, is in the late stages of development. Again from its Standards Informant blog, Siemon explains that ISO/IEC 11801-1 Generic Cabling for Customer Premises - Part 1: General Requirements is under development and will replace the organization’s 11801 Edition 2.2 standard. The company says, “Significant changes from the previous edition include: Class I and Class II channel and link requirements have been added; Category 8.1 and 8.2 connecting hardware and cord requirements have been added.” Class I and Class II are specified up to 2000 MHz.
With the TIA Category 8 standard published and the ISO/IEC specifications for Category 8.1/8.2 and Class I/Class II nearly complete, the industry is in a state of waiting for widespread availability of Category products and systems. Some, but not many, have hit the market.
Optical Cable Corporation (OCC) announced a Category 8 RJ45 plug with integral circuit board technology that the company says provides advanced control of crosstalk, return loss and other impediments, thereby ensuring consistent performance at frequencies up to 2000 MHz.
“Category 8 Ethernet cable will play a major role in meeting today’s burgeoning needs for high-speed communications, whether in the data center, voice, video or other high-bandwidth applications that run on copper cable for distances up to 30 meters,” OCC said when it made the announcement in July 2016.
OCC’s copper connectivity manager Derrick Stikeleather commented at that time, “Essentially, the new plug contains technology that provides advanced control of plug performance. In a conventional category style plug, the plug wires must be arranged in specific positions, leading to variations in performance. But when a circuit board is used, it basically eliminates the possibility of plug wire variations. It also means that electrical properties transition from a cable to a terminal in a more-controlled fashion.” He added that the new, proprietary technology uses a higher-performance type of circuit board material than what is contained in a standard connector. “Without this, achieving quality data transmission rates of 40 Gbits/sec would not be possible,” Stikeleather added.
In mid-2016 Nexans introduced the LANmark-8 end-to-end twisted-pair cabling system, which the company says is fully compliant with the ISO/IEC’s draft Class I/Class II cabling standards. “The new generation of twisted-pair cabling is designed to support growing data needs by enabling cost savings for BASE-T protocols compared to fiber or twinax solutions,” Nexans said. “LANmark-8 is built around the GG45 connector interface, one of the standardized connectors intended to be used in the permanently installed cabling infrastructure. GG45 supports 2 GHz and offers plenty of additional headroom above the applications requirements. It is fully compliant with the Class I/Class II cabling standards and compatible with the RJ45 interface. As it runs in two modes-one for 10G today (RJ45) and a new high-speed mode for 25G/40G-future switch upgrades can be accommodated very easily by simply exchanging patch cords.”
The LANmark-8 system includes connectors, cables, patch panels, GG45 patch cords, and GG45-to-RJ45 patch cords. Nexans notes that the GG45-to-RJ45 patch cords are in development and “will arrive with first 40GBASE-T switches.”
The absence of 40GBASE-T (and for that matter, 25GBASE-T) network equipment appears to be a bit of a logjam vis-à-vis cabling-system availability. In gathering information for this article, the author reached out to manufacturers that supply twisted-pair cabling systems to the North American market to gain insight into the current or upcoming availability of Category 8 products and systems. One manufacturer anonymously stated that their release date for Category 8 products was not yet determined, based largely on the pending availability of 25/40GBASE-T networking equipment.
So the high-performance automobiles (25/40GBASE-T) haven’t yet rolled off the assembly line, and there are scant few roads (Category 8 products) upon which they could drive. But if you wanted to conduct a “road test” of sorts, you could do that-because several testers with Category 8 capability are available.
In October the TIA authorized publication of the ANSI/TIA-1152-A standard, which covers field testing of installed Category 8 cabling systems. In development since late 2013, the standard specifies Level 2G testing accuracy.
The WireXpert 4500 from Softing and the Certifier 40G from Viavi Solutions-each with a 2-GHz frequency range-have been available for years. In January, Softing announced that the WireXpert 4500 received approval from Stewart Connector for certification testing of all copper LAN cabling products including Category 8.2. “The Stewart Connector approval is associated with the Softing IT Networks WireXpert 4500 product, which uses ARJ45 connectors for testing up to 2 GHz,” Softing said.
When announcing the approval from Stewart Connector, Softing also noted that BKS Kabel-Service AG approved the WireXpert 4500 for testing its MMCPro System up to Class II. BKS offers the NewLine 2000 cable, which the company describes as a Category 8.2 cable.
Tobias Heilmaier, product manager for Softing IT Networks, said, “We have been working hard on getting our products to this level of conformity and we are pleased to have made it first in the market through extensive R&D investment. This has been the first step for us and we look forward to completing the round of certifications available in order to continue being a strong player in this specific field.”
At last month’s BICSI Winter Conference and Exhibition, Fluke Networks introduced the DSX-8000 CableAnalyzer, which is independently certified and endorsed to meet all the requirements for the Category 8 field testing standard. “The DSX-8000 is the latest addition to the Versiv cable certification family, continuing the Fluke Networks tradition of designing products to help data communications installers more quickly, accurately and profitably achieve system acceptance for copper and fiber jobs,” the company said when making the introduction.
“The Fluke Networks DSX-8000 CableAnalyzer has been confirmed by Intertek to meet the ANSI/TIA-1152-A level 2G requirements for measurement accuracy,” said Antoine Pelletier, project engineer for ICT cabling products testing with Intertek. “The availability of testers that meet this standard is an essential milestone in the evolution of Cat 8 and means customers can ensure their installations are standards-compliant.”
“With the launch of a field tester, designers and installers now have the tools they need to deploy Cat 8 in support of 25- and 40-Gigabit Ethernet networks,” Fluke Networks said. It added that with the introduction of the 8000, the DSX tester series has achieved the following technological accomplishments.
- Permanent link and channel adapters with a full 2-GHz range, allowing field certification of TIA Category 5 through 8 and ISO/IEC Class C through FA and I/II (Class II adapters will be available in summer 2017)
- The ability to test screen continuity along the path of the cabling as required for Level 2G testers
- The ability to test the optional resistance unbalance measurements that are critical for guaranteeing operation of advanced Power over Ethernet systems
Eric Conley, vice president and general manager of Fluke Networks, commented, “While Versiv owners report a fast payback on their investment, contractors expect their testers to last for years. By purchasing the DSX-8000, they can ensure they will be ready when their customers deploy Cat 8 technology.”
Panduit has endorsed the DSX-8000 CableAnalyzer and verified that it meets all Category 8 requirements. Marc Naese, vice president of Panduit’s data center business unit, said, “Category 8 will offer promise of smooth migration to higher bandwidths in the data center, with ease of deployment and significant cost saving. To realize these benefits, customers will need to ensure their installation meets all Cat 8 specifications. Panduit Labs have evaluated and endorse the Fluke networks DSX-8000 for certification of our installations.”
The close association of cabling component or system manufacturers with Category 8 tester providers-Panduit with Fluke Networks and Stewart Connector with Softing-indicates these cabling manufacturers are well down the road (pun intended) of product development with their Category 8 products or systems. It strongly suggests that the wait for Category 8 will not be much longer.
We will continue to follow technological developments and keep you informed of Category 8 as well as 25/40GBASE-T introductions as we learn of them.
Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.