802.3bz – Breathing new life into Category 5e & 6 Infrastructure

14 February 2017

What is the IEEE 802.3bz standard and what does it mean?

Category 5e & 6 cabling has been the standard for cabling installation in businesses for over a decade however with the rise in wireless devices being deployed, Cat5e and Cat6 can no longer supply the required bandwidth for the latest generation of wireless access points bandwidth demands, this currently leaves only one solution, Category 6a.

Category 6a offers a huge performance increase over Cat5e and Cat6 however it comes with a much larger CSA (Cross-Sectional Area) which increases the size of cable containment required but Cat6a also comes at an increased cost for the cable itself. This means that Cat6a is unachievable for many businesses and thus have settled for Cat5e or Cat6 installations. This issue has led many businesses to an issue that now needs resolving, how to get greater amounts of bandwidth to the end user, without expensive new cable runs.

This issue was identified, and the 2.5G/5GBASE-T Task Force and started working on a resolution in March 2015. 18 months on and the solutions they proposed have been approved by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), the world’s largest association of technical professionals and one of the leading standards making organisations in the world.

The solution they proposed utilised existing Category 5e and 6 infrastructures, however, they could increase speeds over already installed cables to up to 2.5Gbits/s over Category 5e and up to 5Gbit/s over Category 6! And these speeds can be delivered without compromising the ability to utilise Power-over-Ethernet. This means that the solution to providing greater bandwidth for the latest Wave 2 802.11AC Wireless Access Points has likely been found.

By Per Mejdal Rasmussen (Own work, source files) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Per Mejdal Rasmussen (Own work, source files) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

But wait, a new standard has been released and it offers what many businesses require, but who’s supporting it? This is the question that our team kept coming back to, and thankfully the answer is, almost all the big names. With the likes of Cisco, Intel, Aquantia, Marvell and many more promoting and the likes of Fluke Networks, Brocade and Aruba also behind the project it won’t be long till we start seeing the adoption in hardware.

So, we have the infrastructure to support it, the hardware is on its way, surely we’re ready to go? Well, many cabling vendors, including world leading Excel Networking have raised concerns regarding the cables ability, stating “these Categories of cabling are now going to be asked to support parameters they were never designed for” and that “the Category 5e cable we installed 10 years ago, as well as the way it was installed, is not the same as what we have and do today, purely because we have had 10 years to learn and make improvements in both aspects.”.

So although we’ve seen a saving grace for existing infrastructure, the jury is still out to see how performance works in the real world.