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10 Gig E: Two steps closer to you

Recent developments have forged dynamic link between cabling and networking systems.

January 1, 2004  

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I am delighted to be writing the first View from the Board column for CNS magazine. Cabling systems and networking systems are intimately linked to each other. In a very simplistic view, a cabling system without network attachments has no value Nor does networking gear alone, in the absence of a cabling infrastructure to provide connectivity.

The dynamic nature of the link between networking and cabling systems can be demonstrated in current standards activity, and in particular in the arena of 10 Gigabit per second Ethernet.

Recent developments in 10 Gigabit Ethernet relating to optical and copper cabling highlight the clear value customers can receive by installing, or having already installed, cutting edge cabling systems. These developments confirm the vision that cabling infrastructure is a key ingredient to building better, faster, and more cost-effective networks and businesses.

In September 2003, Cisco Systems Inc. announced it would introduce 10GBASE-SR pluggable interfaces for the Catalyst 6000 family. These new interfaces are designed to operate at 10Gbit/sec. over laser-optimized multimode fiber. This marks a milestone in the relentless progression of 10 Gigabit Ethernet towards the enterprise backbone.

Early implementers of laser-optimized multimode fiber have been waiting for up to four years for Cisco to finally make the move to support 10 Gigabit Ethernet enterprise networks with laser-optimized multimode cabling options.

Cisco also announced a 10GBASE-LX4 module intended to support legacy (not laser-optimized) 50 or 62.5 micron multimode fiber. The 10GBASE-LX4 design is more complicated and expensive, resulting in a 33% price premium per module over the 10GBASE-SR option.

It is anticipated that this price differential will increase over time, and the widening price gap will encourage many customers to consider installing new laser-optimized backbones as a more cost effective alternative for support of 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

The price penalty for singlemode backbones is even greater as singlemode options (10GBASE-LR and 10GBASE-ER) are priced significantly higher than the 10GBASE-SR option. Other major vendors will be introducing multimode options for their own 10Gigabit Ethernet switches in the coming months.

Boost for Cat 6/Class E

While 10 Gigabit Ethernet on multimode fiber continues to gain momentum, the value of performance excellence in copper cabling is also being highlighted, and Category 6/Class E cabling has received a significant boost from recent developments on the copper front.

With the formation of the IEEE 802.3 10GBASE-T Study Group in November 2002, the groundwork for the development of a 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard for copper cabling began.

At the most recent Study Group meeting held in September 2003, the group approved a series of proposals to support Category 6/Class E or better cabling for channels 55-meters to 100-meters in length.

A proposal to support Category 5e/ Class D channels was not approved as this cabling type would only support 10Gigabit implementation for very short distances. The Study Group also agreed to liaise with TIA and ISO/IEC cabling standards groups to develop the relevant augmentation of Category 6/Class E specifications up to 625 MHz in order to guarantee robust support for full 100-meter channels.

A new reality

The selection of the cabling performance level necessary to support 10G implementation is the first step towards making 10Gbit a second Ethernet over UTP copper cabling a reality.

IEEE members are now faced with investing years of dedicated effort to overcome many technical challenges to attain reliable 10G implementation over copper.

Although at this stage it is too early for anyone to offer guaranteed support for 10GBASE-T over any copper media, the push towards 10G on copper highlights the advantages of installing end-to-end Category 6 cabling solutions with guaranteed channel margin well beyond the minimum specification.

It is becoming clear to all associated with this initiative that better cabling is a better choice.

The evolution of networking systems to increasingly higher levels of performance and cost effectiveness is a never-ending path. The cabling industry has provided a solid, enabling foundation for emerging networking technologies.

Bob Kostash is the Canadian region sales director for SYSTIMAX Solutions Inc. and a member of the magazine’s editorial advisory board. He can be reached at

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