New IEEE Standard

September 12, 2017

The new IEEE standard will improve Ethernet speeds.  The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has ratified a new Ethernet specification (IEEE 802.3bz) which shall boost the top speed of a traditional Ethernet network to as much as 5 Gbps without requiring the replacement of current cabling. 

The new standard provides an ability to reach 2.5Gbps over a Cat 5e cable, or 5Gbps over a Cat 6 cable for up to 100 meters (for either cable.)  This will work well for most home and office applications. The standard answers the need for faster wireless speeds including multiple Power over Ethernet standards (PeE, PoE+ and UPoE) which are relevant to rolling out Wi-Fi access points.

This is a big deal because there is an immense amount of copper cable that has been installed in homes and commercial facilities throughout the United States since the turn of the 21st century, and the cost of re-cabling can be a very expensive proposition. As wireless usage has increased, so has the appetite of the consumer for faster and faster wireless connectivity, which reached the copper cable’s ability to deliver desired speeds. The new standard provides great value by extending the useful life of these existing copper cable installations to address the faster wireless access requirements.


Why is the New IEEE Standard  a Big Deal ?

David Chalupsky, a principal engineer at Intel Corporation who is on the board of directors of the Ethernet Alliance and chairs the IEEE 802.3bz task force tells it this way. “End user data needs – both wired and wireless – are continuing to grow, especially as more and more users access the network via ever-faster wireless technologies enabled by IEEE 802.11ac. The 1000BASE-T uplink from the wireless to wired network is no longer sufficient, and users need a way to tap into higher data rates without having to overhaul the 70 billion meters of Cat5e/Cat6 wiring already sold.”   In other words, without this new standard, the thousands of miles of existing copper cable infrastructure (Cat 5e and Cat 6 cabling), would need to be replaced to keep up with the ever faster speeds demanded for wireless access. “IEEE 802.3bz is an elegant solution addressing not only the demand for faster access to rapidly rising data volumes, but also capitalizes on previous infrastructure investments, thereby extending their life and maximizing value,” according to Mr. Chalupsky.


New IEEE Standard and Existing Developments

It is worth mentioning that the new IEEE Standard  is not a solution for new developments, where newer, more robust category cable (e.g. Cat 6a or Cat 7) are a better alternative to effectively address the need for more speed for wireless connectivity. But the sheer volume of installed Cat 5e and Cat 6 Ethernet cabling makes the new standard a welcome advancement by those who own or manage existing facilities.

The  chart below from BSRIA shows the mix of installed copper cable by category type. Per their website, BSRIA annually publishes a suite of market intelligence reports for the world’s most prominent structured cabling markets.

New IEEE Standard

This isn’t the first time the industry has extended the functional lifespan of copper cable.  The IEEE introduced 802.11ac in 2013, which increased maximum data transfer rates to slightly above 1 Gbps, surpassing the previous 802.11n standard of 300 Mbps. With the new 802.3bz specification, the IEEE is again extending the useful life of installed copper cable.

Speed requirements beyond the 5Gbps are already projected in the next few years.  Whether the industry shall continue to find ways to prolong the lifespan of existing Cat 5e and Cat 6 cabling has yet to be seen, but given the amount of installed Cat 5e and Cat 6 cable, there is more than ample reason to believe they will be doing everything they can to do so… again.

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