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Alliance beefs up efforts on 2.5/5G Ethernet specifications

Posted: 28 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Ethernet? 10G? Wi-Fi? 25G?

In order to develop 2.5Gbit/s and 5Gbit/s Ethernet specifications, Aquantia, Cisco Systems, Freescale, and Xilinx collaborated to form the NBASE-T Alliance. This will plug a hole between today's 1G and 10G standards for cost-sensitive enterprise uses.

"The industry is moving to the next generation of [Wi-Fi] 802.11acWave 2 with theoretical data rates of up to 6.9Gbit/s; a 1Gbit/s [wired Ethernet] link between the access point and switch is not sufficient," Chris Spain, VP of product management at Cisco, said in a release. "Our mission [is] to increase network speed without the need to upgrade the cabling infrastructure."

The NBASE-T Alliance will specify 2.5Gbit/s and 5Gbit/s rates over Cat5e and Cat6 cables with power-over-Ethernet to extend the life of the installed cable plant and avoid running multiple cables between a switch and an access point. The effort is separate from the 25G Ethernet Consortium led by Arista, Broadcom, Google, Microsoft and Mellanox, championing standards for warehouse-scale data centre networks.

Ethernet PHY specialist Aquantia has 2.5G and 5G silicon in production, said Linley Group Principal Analyst Bob Wheeler. When partnered with Cisco, which leads the pack as a networking equipment for enterprise vendor, NBASE-T may have some serious sway.

"Cisco is able to drive new features into the market and drive IEEE standards," Wheeler told EE Times, citing Cisco's VN tag fabric extender technology, which evolved into 802.1BR. "If Cisco decides to ship products based on Aquantia's design, they're in a unique position to enable the market."

The enterprise market truly requires IEEE-based standardisation, Wheeler said, and Broadcom made a call for interest to discuss in November a possible IEEE 2.5G and 5G standard. Since the IEEE standards process could take as much as two years, Cisco and its partners may run the risk of developing technology that is not compatible years down the line. However, as Aquantia has shown, today's siliocn can support the 2.5G and 5G data rates with minimal changes.

"The goals [of the two efforts] are exactly the same in terms of the reach and type of cabling to be supported. There's potential that the specific algorithms implemented will be incompatible and wouldn't talk to each other," Wheeler said.

While it's possible that the Ethernet upgrade could ignite a standards and alliance battle similar to the climate in wireless charging, Wheeler expects the alliances to fall by the wayside if the IEEE call for interest is successful. There is no point in having stand-alone alliances once work gets going, he noted.

The Ethernet Alliance, an overarching trade group "will probably step in when it comes to interoperability and promoting the device," he said. "Waiting for the IEEE standard could delay acceptance of this in the marketplace, but then again Cisco has the ability to drive the market in the enterprise space."

Indeed the NBASE-T promoters made their case for the new data rates at a recent meeting of the Ethernet Alliance. The same set of companies will likely drive the standard forward in the IEEE, minimising the likelihood of any incompatibility issues. They first tipped plans of the effort in early October.

The NBASE-T Alliance is seeking members and based in Delaware as a not-for-profit organisation.

- Jessica Lipsky
??EE Times

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