The Next Step for Ethernet: Slow Down

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

How to Ease the Pain of Slow Wi-Fi

The march of technology moves inexorably forward: LTE is settled and the phone researchers are busy on 5G. Not to mention, new and more advanced flavors of Wi-Fi seem to be introduced on a monthly basis. And indeed, it is the latter that is causing the wired world to increase its data-carrying capacity—but in this case, the idea is to slow down a bit.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has begun the process of developing wired Ethernet standards capable of transporting data at 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps. The long process began last week with the formation of the Next Generation Enterprise Access Base-T 5 Study Group.

The study group could create a workforce during the first quarter of next year, and higher speed standards could emerge relatively quickly—at least in the context of the traditional glacier speed of standards-setting initiatives.

That’s not all the news on this front, though. Late last month, four companies, Cisco, Freescale, Xilinx and Aquantia, formed the NBase-T Alliance to push the faster speeds over this type of networking media. Enterprise Networking Planet points out that Ethernet speeds have reached 100 Gbps. According to the article, another group, the 25 GbE Consortium, was formed in July.

The projects aim to create a standard that is far slower. The difference is that this work is not in the backbone, where the conduits are vast. The standard being envisioned is aimed at expanding the capacity of the Cat 5e and Cat 6 cabling used in today’s wiring infrastructures.


The immediate driver of the effort is the emergence of 802.11ac. This Wi-Fi standard is capable of multi gigabit-per-second operation. That means that Ethernet cables connected to access points must be capable of moving data fast enough to avoid becoming the weak link. Stephen Lawson at Computerworld points out that Wave 2 of the 802.11ac standard will further stress networks if proper steps aren’t taken.

Lawson’s story points out that the Ethernet Alliance, which promotes Ethernet standards, is also pushing 25Gbps, 50Gbps and 400Gbps standards. 

All standards will have their uses, but the development of 2.5 and 5Gbps Ethernet for Cat 5e and Cat 6 is quite important. It seems that the industry has put creation of this standard on the fast track.

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 and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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