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In this interview, Peter Jones, Chairman of the NBASE-T Alliance, provides an overview of the technology, its application and benefits.

Tolly: For those readers being exposed to NBASE-T technology for the first time today can you provide a brief overview of the technical details and benefits?

NBASE-T Alliance: Put simply, NBASE-T technology provides up to 5x network speeds on installed Cat5e/6 copper cables, avoiding costly/difficult rip and replace efforts.

More specifically, NBASE-T technology allows Ethernet links to offer greater flexibility with new data rates of 2.5 Gbps and 5 Gbps over the most commonly deployed Cat5e and Cat6 cabling (more than 70 billion meters installed worldwide). NBASE-T signaling boosts data throughput up to 5 Gbps over 100 meters of Cat5e/6 cabling (5x 1000BASE-T).

It enables users to boost the performance of enterprise, service provider and home networks using Cat5e and Cat6 cabling in the most cost-effective and least-disruptive manner.

As an example, 802.11ac Wave 2 or 802.11ax wireless access points could approach an aggregate of 5 Gbps of throughput. NBASE-T technology offers the ability to support that traffic without replacing a single cable.

 Tolly: As a follow up, who is the alliance and what is your role in the NBASE-T specification? How is this related to the IEEE 802.3bz standard?

NBASE-T Alliance: The NBASE-T Alliance was founded in 2014 by Cisco, Aquantia, Freescale (now NXP) and Xilinx, to build consensus and help streamline the development of a new 2.5G/5G Ethernet standard. The alliance collaborated on the development of specifications for pre-standard product development to build-out the NBASE-T ecosystem. The alliance includes more than 45 members representing all major facets of networking infrastructure.

Using the NBASE-T specification as their blueprint, individuals from our member companies helped to rapidly define IEEE 802.3bz, and guide it to ratification in late 2016. The alliance worked to ensure compatibility between its specifications and IEEE 802.3bz during development of the IEEE standard.  As a result, the IEEE 802.3bz standard is compatible with the NBASE-T PHY Layer specification and existing NBASE-T products

The availability of the NBASE-T specification in advance of the IEEE standard enabled member companies to invest early in the technology, and bring products to market ahead of the standard. This has translated into rapid adoption and deployment of the technology.

With hundreds of products shipping, the alliance now focuses on publishing optimizations to the specification, facilitating interoperability and educating the market about the technology.

NBASE-T Member Companies Shipping Products (hyperlink)

Tolly: What benefits can 2.5G and 5GBASE-T provide to end-users?

NBASE-T Alliance: Many classes of devices that attach to 1000BASE-T are now capable of consuming a lot more than 1Gbps bandwidth.

802.11ac Wave 2 and the upcoming 802.11ax standard allow production of APs that significantly exceed 1Gbps.  The migration to faster wireless access technologies, and delivering faster content transfer speeds to many client systems in enterprise, small medium business (SMB), industrial and home environments, is essential.

For wired infrastructure, todays PCs, Workstations and NAS systems have more than enough horsepower to drive more than 1Gbps, if they can get access it. Unblocking this network access translates to a significant improvement in network performance and user experience for many organizations.

Applications for NBASE-T go well beyond the enterprise campus, and generally fall into four categories: Enterprise, Industrial, Home and Service Providers.

NBASE-T Applications Graphic (hyperlink)

Tolly: How is the deployment of 802.11ac Wave 2 APs impacting the adoption of NBASE-T?

NBASE-T Alliance: The starting point for NBASE-T was looking ahead to 802.11ac Wave 2, and needing to supply more than 1Gbps to an AP on a single cable with power. As WiFi standards have delivered greater capacity, wired networking data-rates were falling behind. NBASE-T fixes that without disruption by reusing installed Cat5e/6 cabling.

Content is getting richer by the day with the explosive growth of video content, Cloud applications, VR, Gaming, teleconferencing, etc. Consequently, users expect the bandwidth offered by networks to keep pace.

The adoption of NBASE-T technology has been rapid and research groups estimate NBASE-T will grow to 25% of the market by 2020.

Tolly: We’ve conducted a lot of interoperability focused evaluations in the past for L2/L3 LAN Switches. We would imagine interoperability would be a key demonstration for providers of NBASE-T. Can you share the alliance’s work to evaluate interoperability?

NBASE-T Alliance: Enabling and showcasing interoperability with products supporting NBASE-T and IEEE 802.3bz is one of the main goals of the NBASE-T Alliance. This is critical to building market confidence and enabling broad adoption.

We have had two plugfests, and have a third planned for late 2017.  We hosted the first in August 2015 with 12 member companies at Granite River Labs in Santa Clara, Calif., and the second in October 2016 was hosted jointly with the Ethernet Alliance at the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL) in Durham, NH. This plugfest included 15 member companies from both alliances and showed a 99 percent success rate in the testing. A follow up webcast provided details on the successful results.

In addition to plugfests, we have participated at the annual Interop event (now Interop ITX) for the past three years with 10-12 NBASE-T Alliance member companies joining us and showing a full range of interoperability.

Plugfest Results Webcast (hyperlink)

Tolly: Speaking of the recent Interop ITX, can you provide a recap of what the NBASE-T Alliance showcased at the event?

NBASE-T Alliance: At this year’s Interop ITX, we highlighted 10 member companies at our active booth. We showcased interoperability between NBASE-T enabled products in several markets: Enterprise Network equipment such as wireless access points, switches and client devices; consumer market devices including digital media players and smart TVs; and test and measurement solutions. All products were connected via Cat5e, Cat6 and Cat6a cables in lengths extending up to 100m.

In addition, member companies Aquantia, Extreme Networks and Microsemi made NBASE-T product announcements timed for the event.

NBASE-T InteropITX Demo Slide (hyperlink)

Tolly: As we look ahead, how can NBASE-T evolve to further assist end-users over the next few years?

NBASE-T Alliance: One of the exciting aspects of NBASE-T technology is its growth and use in application areas we hadn’t initially considered. Companies are talking with us regularly about ways to use NBASE-T in new and different ways to meet their challenges and the alliance is continuing its efforts to provide industry support.

Additionally, the alliance will continue to publish optimizations and extensions to the specification that will assist end-users beyond what is defined in IEEE 802.3bz. For example, NBASE-T Downshift selects the highest achievable data rate on installed Cat5e/Cat 6 structured cabling. It augments Ethernet auto-negotiation by providing a mechanism to select the best speed available within the constraints of the cabling.

With the continued need for increased network speeds over existing cables, we anticipate the use of NBASE-T technology will continue to evolve and expand into multiple industries applications in the next few years.

In addition to our above interview with the NBASE-T alliance on the technology, use cases and benefits, you may find more information below on NBASE-T in two recent articles published by Kevin Tolly, Founder on SearchNetworking:

NBASE-T Ethernet gives LANs a needed performance boost: http://searchnetworking.techtarget.com/tip/NBASE-T-Ethernet-gives-LANs-a-needed-performance-boost

What NBASE-T switch products do I need?: http://searchnetworking.techtarget.com/answer/What-NBASE-T-switch-products-do-I-need

Bio on Peter Jones, Chairman NBASE-T Alliance

Peter Jones has been disrupting the switching software and systems architecture in Cisco for over ten years. As a Principal Engineer, Peter oversees ASIC, system and software architecture for key areas within the enterprise switching platforms.

Currently, Peter is Chairman and Vice President of the NBASE-T Alliance, driving market development and promoting product interoperability to ensure a positive user experience of NBASE-T and IEEE 802.3bz Ethernet technologies.

Peter is actively involved in IEEE 802.3 standards development. He was a key part of the IEEE 802.3bz group from start to finish. He is currently involved with 4 802.3 projects, including 25Gbps Ethernet on Single Mode Fiber and 10Mbps Ethernet on single pair copper.

Prior to Cisco, Peter has offered his expertise and leadership to the likes of Luminous Networks, Atmosphere Networks and DataCraft (Australia). At all three companies he furthered major product platform developments, making systems deployable and delivering device control and manageability for network usability.

Peter holds a BSc in computer science and physics from the University of Western Australia.

Aside from technology, Peter is passionate about Celtic music, science fiction and good wine. You can find more about Peter at about.me/petergjones , or on LinkedIn and Twitter @petergjones.

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