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No Fiber, No Problem: Boost WiFi on a Cat5e Network

If your business values fast WiFi in the workplace, get excited—network switches with the new IEEE P802.3bz Ethernet standard may boost WiFi signal over a gigabyte per second with an 802.11ac WiFi router and access points.

A verifiable gigabyte wireless connection on a cable network? Is the pink elephant of wireless Internet marching through the office?

In February 2015, I first looked at so-called “intermediate speed” or “multigigabit” network infrastructure—routers and switches rated for 2.5/5 Gbps data rates. At that time, developers were trying to find a way to boost data rates beyond 1000 Mbps (one gigabyte per second) in legacy Cat5e and Cat6 cabled environments.

Well, they figured it out—and won the blessing from IEEE to take the technology to the marketplace. Hannibal is ready to invade Rome with a BYOD army of pink elephants.


Cisco is in the driver’s seat

To clarify, “they” is a consortium of networking scientists from around the industry—lots of Cisco engineers—called the NBASE-T Alliance. The technology, simply put, automates and refines Layer 1 bandwidth allocation in real time. Those automation features in the Access Layer are shown to “evolve incrementally” the throughput for twisted-pair cables.

“Going beyond one gigabyte per second with Cat5e and Cat6 cables was little more than a talking point two years ago,” says Sachin Gupta, a Cisco executive with the NBASE-T Alliance.

Now that IEEE P802.3bz guides production of 2.5/5 GHz switches, vendors have to use N-BASE-T Technology, which gives founding member Cisco and their subsidiary Meraki a leg up.

Forget about re-cabling the LAN

Re-cabling network infrastructure is prohibitive for medium- and enterprise-sized businesses. Fiber cable has considerable costs for materials and labor; the network downtime can also disrupt business.

Demand for a 2.5/5 Gbps LAN grew with the release of 802.11ac WiFi equipment. The WiFi routers lagged behind the theoretical potential—802.11ac WiFi networks can achieve 7 Gbps, but in a cable Ethernet infrastructure performance is suppressed to speeds well below one gigabyte. Connectivity will be nowhere near 7 Gbps, but engineers expect to boost WiFi close to 2 Gbps within two years.

What will the products look like?

Cisco and Meraki will be key players in mulitgigabit switches and APs—to the developer go the spoils—but other vendors are supporting the technology as well.

There are several switches already available that can be configured for 2.5/5 Gbps networks.

Cisco Catalyst 4500E
Cisco Catalyst 3850
Cisco 3560-CX
Cisco Meraki MS350
Cisco Meraki MR53
NETGEAR ProSafe M4200
HP Aruba 3810
HP Aruba 5400R

Access points that support the latest and fastest 802.11ac Wave 2 standard:

Cisco Aironet
Cisco Meraki MR42 / MR53
HP Aruba (300 and 200 series)

Final thoughts and value proposition

Businesses that value fast WiFi in the office stand to get a performance bump with multigigabit switches and routers. Network switches that use the IEEE P802.3bz Ethernet standard removes the cost of moving from Cat5e or Cat6 to fiber optic cabling and reduces cost to boost a Wifi signal with 802.11ac WiFi routers and wireless access points.

No Fiber, No Problem: Boost WiFi with Cat5e Ethernet
Article Name
No Fiber, No Problem: Boost WiFi with Cat5e Ethernet
Network switches with the new IEEE P802.3bz Ethernet standard may boost WiFi signal over a gigabyte per second with an 802.11ac WiFi router and access points.
Adam Lovinus

Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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