Ethernet Slows Down with the Times

Carl Weinschenk
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Networking technologies get inexorably faster as they advance. LTE is faster than 3G, and 5G will beat the pants off LTE. Fast is king, right?

Not always.

The next big thing in Ethernet is IEEE P802.3bz, which defines – a fancy term for laying out the rules of the road – for 2.5GBASE-T and 5GBASE-T. In essence, Ethernet is being told to slow down and smell the bits and bytes. More specifically, the standard aims to ease the use of data traveling at the pokey speeds of 2.5 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and 5 Gbps over copper cables.


The use cases for Ethernet have broadened, according to Network World and David Chalupsky, a member of the Ethernet Alliance’s Board of Directors and a product architect at Intel. Faster Ethernet is still needed in the wide-area network. But within a facility, overall speed is not as important as optimizing the technique for specific use cases.

The best example, according to Chalupsky, is Wi-Fi. The faster speeds of 802.11ac Wave 2 mean that wireless will be called upon by more people to perform more tasks. Wireless will partially, and in some cases completely, replace end-to-end wired connections. Thus, a robust spec aimed at backhauling data from access points to networking gear in the enterprise is necessary.

Last week, the Ethernet Alliance and the NBASE-T Alliance announced that they would sponsor a “plugfest” at the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL) during the week of October 10. “Plugfest” is industry jargon for meetings in which the interoperability of equipment from different vendors is assessed.

The press release says that IEEE P802.3bz is expected to be ratified in September; it is expected to increase speeds by a factor of five with no change to existing infrastructure.

Though the plugfest is a key step toward slower Ethernet, it is far from the first. The technology has been available for several years. Last month, for instance, Aquantia said that it has shipped 1 million AQrate PHY ports. The physical layer element is capable of 5 Gbps and 2.5 Gbps performance.

Three points here: For years, the gap between wired and wireless networking speeds, reliability and flexibility has been shrinking. At the same time, wireless is exploding. Finally, every bit sent in a wireless network at some point is carried on a wire. The somewhat counter-intuitive bottom line is that the wired infrastructure, which is dominated by Ethernet, must up its game to keep pace with the growth of wireless. IEEE P802.3bz is an effort to do just that.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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