Sidebar: A Twisted Plot for 10GBase-T

Richard Brand, director of advanced technology investment at Nortel Networks Ltd. and a member of the 10GBase-T Study Group, is certain that users will see an implementation of 10 Gigabit Ethernet over twisted-pair cabling within the next two years.

The question is, Which twisted-pair cabling types will the final 10GBase-T specification support? Some in the group hope the specification will eventually run over both Cat 6 and Cat 5 cable types. Support for the more common Cat 5 would enable many companies to use existing cabling rather than running new wiring.

"Some on the study group are investigating Cat 5e for the specification," says Bradley Booth, the study group's chairman and an architect at Intel Corp. But Booth says that consideration isn't a major issue. "We've faced no major obstacles so far," he says.

Nonetheless, the study group is currently evaluating contradictory claims from Ethernet cabling and transmitter vendors as to whether Cat 5 can support 10 Gigabit Ethernet speeds and properly interoperate with other gear without causing interference. At this point in the process, Brand says, "the copper standard is 'witchplay,' actually."

"We're trying to determine who has the true story, so we're struggling in this committee," he says. And to complicate matters further, a new study group was formed in the midst of the 10GBase-T Study Group's January meeting to look at running 10 Gigabit Ethernet over the multimode fiber-optic cabling originally designed to support Fiber Distributed Data Interface networks. Such cabling was widely installed in the late 1990s. "We could have an FDDI standard in almost the same time frame as twisted-pair," Brand says.

When will that be? It is possible a twisted-pair standard will be finalized by mid-2005, with ratification sometime after that, Brand says. Booth sees a final standard by early 2006.

Brand acknowledges that his time frame is optimistic -- a view shared by many vendors. And the FDDI effort only adds confusion for corporate network planners, who must decide whether to install new Cat 6 or fiber cabling or use existing FDDI fiber or Cat 5 cabling for high-bandwidth networking, Brand adds. "In my opinion, there are too many choices, and too many choices stops the market. It makes it easier for customers not to do anything."

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon