RICHARD SWINBURNE NBASE-T FOR THE HOME
It’s time for home users to get a faster Ethernet standard, rather than more over the top Wi-Fi kit, argues Richard Swinburne
Base-T is a new specification designed to bridge the gap between Gigabit Ethernet and enterprise-centric 10 Gigabit (10GbE) standard, which typically uses optical fibre and costs big wads of cash. The NBase-T spec calls for bandwidths of 2.5Gb/sec and 5Gb/sec – a significant upgrade – while retaining the use of the CAT5e/6 spec cabling that’s ubiquitous in homes and small to medium businesses. The specification states that these speeds should be possible at up to 100m over copper wire, making it an ideal upgrade.
At the moment, though, Wi-Fi is getting all the investment, with routers sporting extreme speeds, such as AC3200+, although admittedly, those speeds are technically not true peruser. There have also been big advancements in beam-forming, with Wi-Fi kit featuring six, eight and even 13(!) antennae, while MU-MIMO technology yields superior performance and signal reliability.
In the process, wired Ethernet development has been foolishly sidelined. You can never be 100 per cent sure what you’ll get from a wireless router signal, where the faster speeds are only attained using the distance-limited 5GHz band. Also, while 802.11ac routers are very popular in the USA, in the UK (and EU) where we typically have brick walls and denser housing (so we can see half a street’s worth of hotspots), I’d argue that wired Ethernet is still preferable for many people.
Gigabit Ethernet delivers roughly 100MB/sec in terms of realworld throughput, depending on cabling quality, router performance and the speeds of source/destination drives. As SSD prices hit the deck, though, and more people dump their hard disks, this 100MB/sec throughput will quickly become a bottleneck.
This year, 1TB SSDs have dropped in price significantly, and Samsung’s 950 SSDs will even have a 2TB option.
NBy 2017, we’ll see up to 6TB of flash memory packed into 2.5in boxes, meaning that SSDs will quickly begin to replace NAS hard drives as well. And so they should – their fast bootup capability, low power, zero noise and smaller size are perfect for an always-on device. With SSD-to-SSD transfers due to become the norm in the near future, 5GbE NBase-T will be an essential upgrade to give us 500MB/sec throughput.
The problem is that the NBase-T Alliance ( was created with enterprise in mind, and the tech has been sold as a good-value option for 10GbE, rather than an upgrade path to 1GbE. It’s hardly surprising, since the NBase-T Alliance Chairman works at Cisco, although the working group has grown to 34 members this year, including Intel, Realtek, Marvell and Qualcomm – companies that all make kit in typical home routers and motherboards. However, even though the 1.1 spec has been released, no one is pushing NBase-T to its fuller potential in the home and small to medium business markets.
Intel recently launched new Xeon D processors for networking and data storage that are NBase-T compatible, but again, the tech is just a footnote when the premium spec has half a dozen 100GbE links. In addition, along with its new Maximus VIII Extreme/Assembly motherboard, Asus ROG also showed off its 10G Express card – a 10GbE add-on. Yet with no router to complement it (at the time of writing), and the motherboard costing $500 US (£329), this technology is clearly for the very few.
With enterprise networking and home networking having significantly different requirements, and often different design teams, the enterprise-centric developers have clearly forgotten us at home. However, NBase-T is an ideal and soon to be needed upgrade – let’s make some noise and demand it.