Open Ethernet standards: enabling the next phase of Wi-Fi

Ethernet has become the ubiquitous choice of networking. There are a multitude of aspects that one might point to as the key to its success – low cost, ease–of-use, multi-vendor support, backwards compatibility, or simply being “good enough” at the right cost point to be an attractive solution.  At the end of the day, all of these characteristics contribute to its success, but one shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the standards developed within the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group play a key role in enabling all these factors.

For a company like Dell, which evangelizes the concept of open standards, support for the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet standards is a fundamental aspect to our business model. As noted, these standards enable multi-vendor interoperability, and therefore the very competition that makes the networking industry the thriving entity that it is.

This is an important aspect of the Ethernet DNA that should never be forgotten by the Ethernet community. With this year being so tumultuous for the Ethernet community, as new applications and rates emerged, it would be good for all to pause and recall this important lesson. For example, consider recent events related to Ethernet’s role in supporting wireless access points in enterprise applications.

The deployment of Wi-Fi technology supported by a Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure has been quite successful in enterprise applications for a number of years. Wi-Fi performance will be getting a jump in performance with the introduction of 802.11ac technology. The figure below compares 802.11n against 802.11ac technologies for clients and access points.

This increase in wireless capabilities will stress the existing legacy cabling infrastructure, based on CAT5e and CAT6 cabling. Unfortunately, CAT5E is not specified for 10GBASE-T operation, and reach on CAT6 cabling is cable specific and may not reach 100m, which was the specified reach for 1000BASE-T operation. This is the third key trend I noted recently in my “Top 5 Networking Predictions” for 2015.

With adoption of the 802.11ac technology looking positive, and forecasts by many analysts even rosier, the impending potential pressure on the Ethernet cabling infrastructure will need to be addressed.

Two alliances, the NBASE-T Alliance and MGBASE-T Alliance have emerged to address this application space. As with the beginning of any organization, membership recruitment is expected. It is interesting to note while there are two alliances, there are multiple companies that are part of each alliance. And while the potential fighting between alliances may raise concern, the fact that there are two alliances should actually highlight the need for a solution.

In November, the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group formed the “Next Generation Enterprise Access BASE-T PHY Study Group,” which is the first step to be taken in a standardization effort. As this group begins to meet, it is imperative that all parties remember what the industry needs: a single standard that will enable multi-vendor interoperability. That is, after all, the Ethernet way!  

About the Author: Arpit Joshipura