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Gigabit Ethernet Seeks a Boost

Gigabit Ethernet Seeks a Boost

2.5-, 5G rates aim to keep pace with WiFi

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Gigabit Ethernet is gearing up for a midlife kicker.

Broadcom is leading a charge to create 2.5-Gigabit and 5-Gigabit standards for Ethernet to help keep pace with advances in WiFi. Trying to get ahead of the pack, Aquantia announced a family of physical-layer devices that support the faster data rates.

The new speeds fill a hole between today’s Gigabit and 10G products, mainly targeting enterprise-class WiFi access devices. Today’s emerging IEEE 802.11ac wireless connections can carry as much as a gigabit/second, threatening to overwhelm their wired Gbit Ethernet backhaul links.

So Broadcom, with support from Cisco, is calling for a meeting to determine interest in a so-called Next-Generation Enterprise Access Base-T PHY. The idea will get its first formal hearing in San Antonio in November and is already catching buzz.

“It’s gotten a lot of attention quickly,” said John D’Ambrosia, a Dell distinguished engineer and veteran of several Ethernet standards efforts. “I’ve seen a lot of people nodding their heads over this.”

The group is calling for a standard that will cover 100 meters of Category 5e twisted pair cabling. The call for interest does not specify throughput, but the effort is expected to drive toward work on 2.5G and 5G rates.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a dual-rate effort come out of this,” D’Ambrosia said.

On Oct. 6, the Ethernet PHY specialist Aquantia unveiled its AQrate family of 2.5G and 5G devices that support that distance and cabling. The 28nm parts are based on Aquantia’s 10G Ethernet PHY, which is in production and supports up to 60 W of power over Ethernet.

News of the proposed effort comes in the wake of an alliance formed in July to create ad hoc standards for 25G and 50G Ethernet, filling a hole for data center servers and switches. The IEEE quickly rallied to announce work on an official standard for the data rates just days later.

“There are more discussions on different things than I’ve ever seen before,” D’Ambrosia said. “People have removed the barriers of traditional 10x Ethernet upgrades.”

The two efforts are among the initiatives that Ethernet vendors and users will discuss at an Ethernet Alliance meeting Oct. 16 in Silicon Valley.

— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times