Cat 5e: A Second Life

Mar 23

Cat 5e: A Second Life

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What if I told you that you could get 2.5X – 5X’s the bandwidth out of your existing category 5e cable plant infrastructure? Would you believe it? Well if the NBASE-T Alliance partnered by industry leaders like Cisco and Intel has anything to say about it, you should. The NBASE-T Alliance is a conglomerate of companies striving to drive performance innovation on the wired side of network. Don’t we already have 10 gigabit per second standards? Yes, but as you’ll see there are limitations and considerable expenses involved in making the changes required for IEEE 802.3an / 10GBASE-T.

You may be asking: why do we need another standard? In short, it relates to 802.11ac Wave 2 WiFi. With the proliferation of new wireless standards such as 802.ac and the newer much faster Wave 2, we suddenly find our aging wired infrastructrure starring down the barrel of becoming the bottleneck in our converged networks. Versions of the new wireless standards are easily beginning to provide greater than 1 gigabit performance with the speediest iterations of 802.11ac Wave 2 delivering a theoretical maximum throughput of 6.77Gbps.

So 2.5Gbps – 5Gbps over existing decade old category 5e cabling almost sounds to good to be true, but it’s not. In October of 2014 Aquantia, maker of high performance ethernet chip architectures, released AQrate ® technology, the product line making these incredible speeds available to us today. These speeds are achievable due to a new signaling technology which isn’t possible with older legacy architectures. Although the performance has increased to meet wireless’s ever demanding need for more wired backhaul performance; the real advantage is power over ethernet or POE, something that’s impossible for  802.3an / 10GBASE-T to accomplish in its current specification. Versions of Cisco’s Catalyst 3560-CX, 3850, and 4600E series switches are capable of not only providing POE (15.4 watts) and POE+ (25 watts)  but they can also provide UPOE or Universal POE. UPOE is Cisco’s proprietary extension of POE+ that is capable of providing up to 60 watts of power over capable ports including NBASE-T ports.

Up to 5Gbps performance, POE+, and no upgrade to your existing legacy Cat 5e or Cat 6 cabling infrastructure sounds like the stuff dreams are made of. But the reality of it is, NBASE-T is not currently an IEEE standard as of yet. But with the driving force of the NBASE-T Alliance and its partners like Cisco and Intel, standardization could be here sooner than you think and not a second too soon as 802.11ac Wave 2 WiFi will be shipping in 2015.

NBASE-T is an new and exciting technology that should be keenly watched by all in the network and IT world. High performance, power over Ethernet, and no upgrade to existing wired infrastructure is a hard combination to beat for the value!

 

Matt Smolinski

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