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What NBASE-T switch products do I need?

With NBASE-T Ethernet ratified, it's time to start thinking about NBASE-T switch products for your organization.

Editor's note: In part two of his series on NBASE-T Ethernet technology, Kevin Tolly examines the vendors distributing...

those products.

Now that NBASE-T Ethernet has been ratified, it's time to think about getting your hands on actual products. Let's take a look at what's available.

Some four dozen companies have banded together to help promote this new technology via the NBASE-T Alliance. Variously listed as promoters, contributors or adopters, many of these companies, such as Cisco, Intel and Aruba, are familiar to most engineers. Others are less well-known because they provide components to other vendors.

As far as the NBASE-T switch products that will yield the most benefit from the specification, wireless access points (APs) are the obvious choice, along with any computer that connects over CAT5e or CAT6 cabling. Professional audio and video and medical imaging systems are other products that will realize performance boosts.

Similarly, for industrial applications, APs and stations can benefit. Industrial environments are also more likely to have compact LAN switches that will be able to exploit the increased bandwidth.

Appropriate hardware required to make it work

If you have CAT5e or better cable installed, deploying NBASE-T switch products will also require appropriate hardware at both ends. In your wiring closet, you will need a switch that provides NBASE-T ports. At your computer, you will need an NBASE-T LAN adapter.

Having been ratified only a few months ago, NBASE-T products are just on their way to becoming available. Cisco and Netgear already have equipment available. The Netgear M4200 PoE+ managed switch, for example, provides eight 2.5 gigabit Ethernet ports and two 10 GbE SFP+ ports. The specs make the switch particularly suitable for connecting APs to the network and providing power to them.

If you have CAT5e or better cable installed, deploying NBASE-T will also require appropriate hardware at both ends.

Unfortunately, the technology is so new that it is still in the "ouch" phase -- as that is what you feel when you hear the pricing. For example, the Netgear switch retails at $1,144.99, roughly $144 a port -- ignoring the two SFP+ ports. This compares with the $6 per-port price for Netgear's eight-port GbE switch.

What about the NBASE-T LAN adapter that you need in your desktop? Over the years, we have gotten spoiled, as Gigabit Ethernet has been integrated onto the motherboard of many components. With NBASE-T, vendors are just now shipping components to their customers. As of April, CDW carried only NBASE-T network cards from one vendor, StarTech, and they are not cheap.

Unfortunately, missing from the NBASE-T member list are companies such as Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Apple and Lenovo. That is a bad sign for desktop connectivity. An NBASE-T switch only provides one end of the network connection. There is no desktop connectivity without a desktop or server LAN adapter. Right now, at least, there are very few options. So, watch that area closely.

NBASE-T switch products are a good solution for existing environments. While it can be a general-purpose network connectivity technology, the focus now seems to be to provide a higher-speed link to WLAN APs. If that is a pressing need for you, NBASE-T can help. If faster-than-GbE desktop connectivity is what you need, you should probably look at 10GBASE-T copper options.

Next Steps

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This was last published in May 2017

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