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Work Ahead for Alliance in Wake of IEEE Progress

By Joseph Byrne, NBASE-T Alliance Board Member and Senior Manager, Strategic Marketing, Freescale Digital Networking Group and
Peter Jones, NBASE-T Alliance Chairman and Principal Engineer, Cisco

You may have trouble thinking that an IEEE meeting can be exciting, but the May 802.3bz 2.5/5GBASE-T Task Force meeting in Pittsburgh fit this definition – not because of the process, but because of the outcome. Something that was expected to take months to complete was instead approved in record time.  The task group concluded the week having settled the major contours of a 2.5GBASE-T and 5GBASE-T standard. These included unanimous adoption of baseline PMA/PCS, auto-negotiation proposals and definition of the MII. While there is no set timeline for ratification of a standard, the process is anticipated to take 18-24 months. In the meantime, there is important work to do within the IEEE and the NBASE-T Alliance.

During the IEEE meeting, there were proposals, presentations and votes needed on several different aspects of the standard. The group really needed to think about what would best serve industry and market needs.  Other standards efforts in similar situations have suffered from long disagreements, some to the extent of missing their target market. This group realized, however, that the task force objectives were clear, and that rapid agreement was the best way to move forward.  Key members of the task force converged on a consensus position and gained support from a range of interests in the industry.

Presentations are all available at meeting link, and the accepted motions are at motions link. Meeting participants received very positive reactions to the rapid progress of the group. This can be seen in:

  • Ethernet Alliance “Ethernet 104: Introduction to 2.5G/5G BASE-T Ethernet” Webinar (link)
  • Ethernet Alliance “Successful Consensus-Building Efforts Rule the Day at May 2015 IEEE 802.1 / IEEE 802.3 Joint Interim Meeting” (link)
  • IEEE Standards Association “New IEEE P802.3bz™ Project Achieves Significant Milestone Towards Enabling Higher Speeds Over Installed Base of Twisted Pair Cabling” (link)

Now that the IEEE has baseline proposals, what is left for the NBASE-T Alliance to do in addition to evangelizing the value of 2.5GBASE-T and 5GBASE-T? The answer is plenty. End users may not realize that the technical baselines adopted so far are consistent with the existing NBASE-T PHY specification. Until the IEEE ratifies a standard, the NBASE-T specification stands as a reference for compatibility. The alliance will define a certification process so that end users can be assured the gear they buy is compatible and will not be quickly obsoleted.

We also must continue to support the IEEE process, providing technical analysis and practical support. Beyond the IEEE standard, we must provide options for the MII so that system makers have good choices for connecting different components to PHYs. To complete their designs, they will also need specifications for magnetics.

Although excitement and surprises keep the work we do interesting, the ultimate value of our work is measured by how well the technology we work on is adopted by end users. To maximize adoption, we must focus our efforts on the work remaining to be done.