Cisco NBase-T – lipstick on your Cat5e pig

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In January of this year I was invited to join the TechFieldDay crew at Cisco Live in Milan. On Monday we got a whole day of Cisco presentations and the rest of the week we had time to spend on the show floor (and a trip to Lake Como!).

The BYOD pipe is just too small

The last presentation for the day was for Peter Jones, principal engineer at Cisco and chairman at the NBase-T alliance. He came to present us MultiGigabit Ethernet (2.5Gbps / 5.0Gbps). My immediate reaction was: who the hell needs a 2.5 and 5.0 GbE standard if we already have 10GbE being rolled out and 40GbE or even 100GbE up and coming?

While 10/40/100GbE are indeed being deployed, this is mainly in the datacenter itself. Interconnects between server clusters or frontned/backend of storage arrays/clusters. But what if we want more than 1GbE to the end-points?

How many of you come into the office and still plug their computer into an RJ45 cable? Most of you will just open their laptop (and tablet and smartphone) and connect straigth to the wireless network, be it the corporate secure Wifi for your laptop or the guest network for your BYO-device. With all these devices connected, our APs can’t keep up with ‘merely’ 1GbE. So we have to scale the bandwidth.


MultiGigabit Ethernet

So roll out 10GbE APs then? Well here’s the problem! For 10GbE you’ll need at least CAT 6a cabling. Did you know that today over 75% of ethernet install base is CAT 5e and CAT 6? Pulling CAT 6a or CAT 7 cables just for the APs is never going to happen. And recabling a whole building just to have a higher bandwidth for your APs is an insane cost.

In comes MultiGigabit Ethernet. We know we can get 1GbE through a CAT5e and CAT6 cable. But that’s not their physical limit. When pushing the physical limits, engineers have found that they could sustainably reach 2.5Gbps and even 5.0Gbps speeds. And this, my friends, is where the new Cisco NBase-T standard has risen.

Personal note: I’m not sure what I am asking for, but wouldn’t it be awesome if switch and AP could test themselves to their maximum and make this a flexible bandwidth at its FULL physical capacity?

Broadcom has a similar standards project going on under the (confusingly similar) name MGBase-T (LINK). No-one knows who’s going to ‘win’ the standards game, but at least there is a concensus over the need.


I just love it when technology isn’t just about new and innovative ideas. In this case it’s about a real business need.

Full Presentation

Cisco Live US

It’s definitely not too late to still register for Cisco Live US in June. It’s not very likely I’ll be there but can’t exclude it either. CLICK HERE TO VISIT CISCO LIVE US


  • All Cisco Live Milan 2015 TechFieldDay presentations – LINK
  • David Gee: Multigigabit Ethernet 2.5 / 5.0 Gbps NBASE-T Alliance – LINK
  • Tom Hollingsworth: NBase-ing your Wireless Decisions – LINK
  • Interesting read from Ruckus why this whole story is merely a Cisco fad – LINK (I reckon Ruckus has their own reason for writing this).
  • Andrew von Nagy – shares Ruckus PoV – LINK

Disclaimer: my travel and accomodation costs were taken care of by TechFieldDay.

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  1. “I’m not sure what I am asking for, but wouldn’t it be awesome if switch and AP could test themselves to their maximum and make this a flexible bandwidth at its FULL physical capacity?”

    Is that what the “Multi-Gigabit Ethernet Ports” on the WS-C3850-24XU-S and similar switches do? That’s how I read it at least.

    One port, that will negotiate to 1, 2.5, 5, 10 Gbps (or 100Mb but who cares about that 😉 )

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