by Patrick McLaughlin
It’s somewhat cliché to use the January issue of a monthly publication as a venue in which to predict what’s going to happen in the new year. So I’ll try to be neither trite nor obnoxious while contemplating what we’ll see in 2008.
Most significantly, this will be the year that the proverbial rubber meets the road with respect to cabling infrastructure supporting 10GBase-T. As I write this column on December 13, the Telecommunications Industry Association’s TR-42.7 Telecommunications Copper Cabling Systems Committee wraps up a three-day meeting at which it may have put the finishing touches on the Augmented Category 6/Category 6A specifications. As we reported in November, despite the fact that the TR-42.7 group still has work to complete, the actual performance specs for Category 6A have been stable for quite some time.
As such, pre-standard Category 6A systems have been available and indeed installed for a couple years. Likewise, the IEEE’s 10GBase-T protocol specifications were finalized in June 2007. But 2008 will be the year in which 10GBase-T network products, in the form of switches and network-interface cards, are expected to hit the market en masse.
What will happen then? If all goes well, users will plug and play (as much as a 2:00-Sunday-morning cutover can be described as “play”). Even so, one conversation I had in the fall has lingered in my ears for months. An executive at a cable-manufacturing company, with whom I crossed paths in September, said that 2008 will be “interesting” for the precise reason described above—the real-life road test for installed Category 6A systems.
He didn’t say the year would be “good,” or “satisfying,” or “productive.” He said it would be “interesting.” Every single Category 6A system installed to date has been a pre-standard version; I encourage every user of such a system to re-check the wording of any documentation their cabling-system manufacturers supplied to confirm the extent to which the systems assure application support.
Re-reading what I have already written, I am only somewhat confident that I won’t be tagged with the label “fear monger.” So, you tell me: How confident are you that the pre-standard Category 6A systems that have penetrated the market for the past couple years will hold up to 10GBase-T? Or, better yet, tell me your actual experience. I’d like nothing more than to use this space a few months from now to report that 2008 is shaping up as a good, satisfying, productive year for those who previously invested in 6A infrastructure and are now reaping the benefits of that investment.