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Everything you always wanted to know about Multi-Gig Ethernet and were afraid to ask.

Small to Medium Business (SMB) networks simply can’t keep up with the exploding bandwidth requirements of the latest networking devices. Wi-Fi standards like 802.11ac, powerful servers and workstations that move large data files, are demanding network-access speeds beyond the 1 Gbps standard to 2.5 Gbps and even 5 Gbps. A data hungry network storage device like NETGEAR’s ReadyNAS appliance can handle close to 20 Gbps. But the network is holding it back from completing its hourly backups or fast replication.

So why don’t we just move everyone and everything in SMB over to 10 Gbps?

There are a couple of reasons why business owners don’t simply make the move, most of which have to do with cost. NETGEAR was the driver behind the massive cost reduction of 10 Gbps Ethernet switches, making them more affordable for the SMB-sized wallets. You can now pick up a 10 Gbps Ethernet switch for just under $100 per Ethernet port today, whereas the price was about $400 per port before NETGEAR entered the category over 7 years ago. The 10 Gbps (10GBASE-T) technology is still a growing segment of networking, although the price of an average 10 Gbps switch port is about 20 times higher than a gigabit port. NETGEAR supplies over 75% of the SMB 10 Gbps switch market.

10 Gbps Ethernet has one major disadvantage over the 1 Gbps (1000BASE-T) standard – you will need special quality cabling for it. Copper Ethernet cables are divided in various categories. 10 Gbps needs Category 6a (CAT6A) cables or higher, when 1 Gbps speeds can be achieved over legacy CAT5E. And guess what kind of cabling is running in the-drop ceilings of the building you are in today? Yes, probably CAT5 or CAT5E.

A “rip-and-replace” of your Ethernet wiring would set you back roughly $300 per physical connection. So, this could be a very costly operation, since you will likely need 3 or 4 connections per employee. PC’s, VoIP phones, IP cameras, wireless access points, displays, servers and storage all need to connect over Ethernet, and I did not even count the internet-connected (IoT) devices like thermostats, door locks and sensors.

So – are we stuck with 1 Gbps forever?

Luckily – no. There is a way to run higher Ethernet speeds over Cat5E networking cables – by applying a new technology called Multi-Gig Ethernet or NBASE-T. This new standard describes speeds of 2.5 and 5 Gbps over existing cabling.

But why did the SMB market not move to this new Multi-Gig standard over the past few years?

Again, the answer all related to cost. However, development time also plays a role.

The SMB market needs flexible Ethernet switches with a variety of port configurations. For example, to supply enough bandwidth to four modern Wi-Fi access points running Wi-Fi speeds up to 2.5 Gbps, you will need at least four 2.5 Gbps PoE Ethernet connections to a switch, and an uplink port on that switch connecting up to your core network running at 10 Gbps. Essentially, a 4:1 ratio of 2, 5 Gbps to 10 Gbps for good housekeeping – a non-blocking architecture, as we call it in network nerd speak.

This is why NETGEAR’s first Multi-Gig aggregation switch, the M4200, has six 2.5 Gbps PoE ports, two 5 Gbps ports and 2x 10 Gbps fiber uplink ports. It works with existing Cat5E cables between the switch and the access points, up to 100 meters. This means you can use it to upgrade an existing WiFi network from 1 Gbps backhaul to 2.5 Gbps, or to futureproof a new network.

While it makes sense for deployment of very fast WiFi, it still does not solve the issue of bringing low cost Multi-Gig to every network connection for your business.

There is more.

What if businesses want to combine legacy Ethernet speeds (100 Mbps or 100BASE-T, still in use for phones and audio because it is super reliable and cheap) with 1 Gbps, 10 Gbps and these new 2.5 and 5 Gbps speeds? This will require another few rounds of engineering and cost reduction.

Here is the good news.

We have done it! NETGEAR has solved these problems. This week we announced the availability of a series of Multi-Gig Ethernet switches that support 2.5 and 5 Gbps and 10 Gbps, as well as good old 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps. Since these switches are now running at 5 different speeds, we call them 5-Speed Ethernet switches.

With this affordable technology, equipment makers are adopting the Multi-Gig and 5-speed standards and, as we speak, they are driving down the cost of deployment rapidly. You can find 2.5 and 5 Gbps speeds already on a variety of devices and there are PCI network cards that you can retrofit existing PC’s and servers with.

An apology.

Yes – we, as an industry, are collectively guilty of confusing you with mixing up these different standards.

The best news is that most equipment manufacturers are adopting Multi-Gig into products with actual SMB prices. Happy network upgrading!

Learn more by visiting netgear.com/Multi-Gig

Richard Jonker

Vice President Product Line Management, SMB

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