The Insatiable Need For Bandwidth

New standards address need for speed without the cost of extensive rewiring.

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With the push for more and more Wi-Fi bandwidth, the WLAN industry, its standards committees, and the Ethernet switch manufacturers are having a hard time keeping up with the need for more speed. As the industry prepares for upgrading to 802.11ac Wave 2 and the promise of 11ax, the ability of Ethernet over existing copper wiring to meet the increased transfer speeds is being challenged. And what really can’t keep up are the budgets that would be needed to physically rewire the millions of miles of cabling in the world today.

The latest 802.11ac IEEE standard is now in Wave 2. According to Webopedia’s definition, the 802.11ac -2013 update, or 802.11ac Wave 2, is an addendum to the original 802.11ac wireless specification that utilizes Multi-User, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MU-MIMO) technology and other advancements to help increase theoretical maximum wireless speeds from 3.47 gigabits-per-second (Gbps), in the original spec, to 6.93 Gbps in 802.11ac Wave 2. The original 802.11ac spec itself served as a performance boost over the 802.11n specification that preceded it, increasing wireless speeds by up to 3X. As with the initial specification, 802.11ac Wave 2 also provides backward compatibility with previous 802.11 specs, including 802.11n.

IEEE noted that in the past two decades, the IEEE 802.11 wireless local area networks (WLANs) also experienced tremendous growth with the proliferation of IEEE 802.11 devices as a major Internet access for mobile computing. Therefore, the IEEE 802.11ax specification is under development, as well. Giving equal time to Wikipedia, its definition of 802.11ax is a type of WLAN designed to improve overall spectral efficiency in dense deployment scenarios, with a predicted top speed of around 10 Gbps. It works in 2.4GHz or 5GHz, and in addition to MIMO and MU-MIMO it introduces an Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) technique. That improves spectral efficiency and also higher order 1024 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) modulation support for better throughputs. Though the nominal data rate is just 37% higher compared to 802.11ac, the new amendment will allow a 4X increase of user throughput. This new specification is due to be publicly released in 2019.

Faster “Cats” Cat 5, 5e, 6, 6e and on
This is big news, and it has broad implications. Even cabling is moving up to keep up. You’ve got Cat 5, 5e, 6, 6e and 7 (search: Differences between CAT5, CAT5e, CAT6 and CAT6e Cables for specifics). Each iteration is capable of moving more data faster, starting with the ubiquitous Cat 5 at 100Mbps at 100MHz over 100 meters of cabling, to Cat 6e reaching 10,000 Mbps at 500MHz over 100 meters. Cat 7 can operate at 600MHz over 100 meters, with more “Cats” on the way. All of this of course, is to keep up with streaming, communications, mega data or anything else being thrown at the network.

What this all boils down to is this—no matter how fast the network standards or cables get, the migration to new technologies always will be balanced with the cost of attaining those speeds and technologies in the physical realm. In other words, balancing the physical labor costs associated to upgrade all those millions of miles of cabling in buildings throughout the world, as well as the switches or other access points. The labor costs alone are a reason why companies often seek out to stay in the wiring closet as long as possible, where the physical layer (PHY) devices, such access and switches, remain easier and more cost effective to switch out than replacing existing cabling.

To do this, a host of new PHY products have been developed and optimized to support 2.5 and 5.0 Gbps speeds using existing cabling. Whole solutions include wireless processors supporting 11ac (wave-2), 2×2 MU-MIMO combo, as well as Bluetooth 4.2 and future BT5.0. To address switching, next-generation packet processors are also now available to enable secure, high-density and intelligent 10GbE/2.5GbE/1GbE switching solutions at the access/edge and aggregation layers of Campus, Industrial, Small Medium Business (SMB) and Service Provider networks. Small, low-power and high performing Ethernet transceivers can also help optimize form factors and provide multiple port and cable options. All of these new advanced PHY products offer efficient power consumption and simple plug-and-play functionality for the broadband market to support 2.5G and 5G data rate over Cat5e and Cat6 cables.

Less wiring
The longer changes can be made at the wiring closet. There is no need for electricians and the cabling needed to rewire, allowing companies to balance faster throughput at lower cost. If you look to wireless processors, switching, transceiver or other PHY devices that can help you address the upgrade to 2.5G- and 5GBASE-T over existing copper wire, then you will have an edge in keeping up with that insatiable demand for throughput.