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Enterprise Access BASE-T geared to support next-gen WiFi

Posted: 18 Nov 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Ethernet? WiFi? Enterprise Access BASE-T PHY?

Another networking technology is presently being developed to support next-generation WiFi access points. The November IEEE 802 Plenary spawned two new study groups. Both are intended for twisted-pair cabling (i.e., BASE-T) applications.

Enterprise Access BASE-T is aimed at higher speeds for enterprise campus access connections, while 25GBASE-T targets 25GE server connections for the enterprise server space. Given all of the recent attention on 25GE this year, developing a 25GBASE-T PHY for server connections is most likely not a big surprise to many. Given the ongoing work in the IEEE 802.3 25Gb/s Ethernet Study Group and the IEEE 40GBASE-T Task Force, 25GBASE-T is a logical addition to IEEE 802.3's work.

The Enterprise Access BASE-T PHY effort, on the other hand, is a more recent example of Ethernet breaking from its "one size fits all" mentality and moving to a more pragmatic approach. It also nicely illustrates how a solution will be driven by the economics of the application it is targeting.

The deployment of WiFi access points (APs) is supported by the wired infrastructure of unshielded twisted pair cabling to provide both data transport using Gigabit Ethernet BASE-T and power. The mass deployment of this solution space has led to a large installed base of CAT5e and CAT6 UTP cabling across a diverse number of environments.

No networking technology ever seems to sit still in terms of speed, and with the introduction of novel wireless IEEE 802.11ac-based products, it is estimated that the wired Ethernet connection to the AP will need to upgrade its speed capability to support about 2Gb/s within 12 months and nearly 4Gb/s in 24-36 months.

The first reaction of some might be to say, "No problem-o! We have 10GBASE-T." The problem with this plan, however, is that 10GBASE-T is not specified to operate over CAT5e cabling, and the reach on CAT6 cabling is dependent on the cabling itself, as well as how it was deployed. Additionally, a refresh of the actual cabling infrastructure may be cost prohibitive itself.

The upgrade to IEEE 802.11ac-based APs is happening now, as consumers continue to demand applications where limited bandwidth impacts the consumer experience. That's why many in the industry saw the need for a new standard that specifies operation of one or more Ethernet speed(s) between 1G and 10G, running over the installed CAT5e and above UTP cabling infrastructure for lengths up to 100m.

Rate auto-negotiation will be necessary to operate with Gigabit and 10Gigabit Ethernet BASE-T links. The increase in bandwidth will also drive the need to specify operation of present PoE standards and the recent higher-power four-pair PoE standard being developed by the IEEE 802.3bt Task Force. Finally, optional support for energy efficient Ethernet (EEE) operation is also necessary.

Given the fact that the industry is strongly voicing its support for this effort, there is a desire for the Ethernet community to move quickly and decisively. Enterprise Access BASE-T will continue Ethernet's long tradition for interoperability. As Bob Metcalfe put it, "Backwards compatibility is the work ethic of Ethernet."

- John D'Ambrosia
??EE Times

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