Consumer Ethernet performance has been stuck at gigabit speeds for nearly 20 years. Apple was the first company to ship gigabit Ethernet in motherboards. Intel’s 875P chipset popularized the feature in the PC market by connecting the Ethernet controller to the northbridge, thereby offering improved performance. Thirteen years later, gigabit is still the standard for wired Ethernet – but that might be about to change, thanks to a new wired networking standard from the IEEE 802.3bz task force.
There are multiple reasons why we’ve been stuck on gigabit for as long as we have. 10GbE requires more expensive cabling – either fiber optic cable in some cases, or more expensive Cat6a or Cat7 cabling for others. It’s not as backwards-compatible with previous standards (half-duplex operation isn’t supported), and routers, switches, and network cards that can support 10GbE are all far more expensive than their gigabit counterparts.
The two new IEEE standards, known as 2.5GBASE-T and 5GBASE-T, should satisfy that need. These two standards were specifically created to use 10GbE signaling, but at a rate that would be compatible with existing runs of Cat5e and Cat6 cable out to 100 meters. The 2.5Gbps standard can run on Cat5e out to 100 meters, while the 5Gbps standard requires Cat6 cable to run 100 meters. Both should be far easier – and cheaper – to bring to market than current 10GbE technologies.