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Is 2.5, 5 Gigabit Ethernet Access Worth Upgrading?

May 12, 2017

Those who follow news about Ethernet standards will likely be surprised to find that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) took very little time to standardize development of 2.5 and 5 Gigabit Ethernet, using Cat 5e and Cat 6 copper cabling. This is a huge departure from the ordinary—normally the IEEE takes much longer to ratify standards than this—and that's got people wondering if maybe this new Ethernet standard isn't so valuable that not bringing it in would be a major loss.

There's been a lot of effort lately to ramp up industry standards to make multi-gigabit Ethernet over copper cable a thing, and it would be easy to think that demand for such systems must be through the roof. If that were the case, then it would likely be a good idea to get in on 2.5 and 5 gigabit Ethernet before the competition did, thus preventing a potential advantage for someone else.

However, the demand is somewhat limited, as it turns out that access to these new capabilities will depend somewhat on a current situation. Most note that 10 Gigabit Ethernet is likely to be the new standard for users, at least, it will be once the prices drop. Yet at the same time, the price isn't even so much the issue as it is the cabling that's currently used in enterprise networks. Most cabling currently in place is 5e or 6, which works well with 2.5 Gigabit and 5 Gigabit. A jump to 10 would require, generally, a complete cabling switch to Cat 6A cable.

Since most companies will likely switch to 10 when the prices drop—especially since it would take an entire replacement cable job to make the switch happen—the idea of jumping to 2.5 or 5 Gigabit is likely a move with too close an expiration date to make it worthwhile. There are some cases where such a practice might be valuable, but based on what's known so far, the ultimate move should be to 10 Gigabit Ethernet, because speeds are likely only going to go up from there, and if current copper can't support 10, it won't be able to support 25, 50, 100 or whatever else emerges.

Those who move to 2.5 or 5 may get a short-term advantage, but that isn't likely to last going forward and will just end up in the same place: a huge cable restructuring bill to take advantage of 10 and everything thereafter.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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