The Path to Ethernet Standards and the Intel Ethernet, NBASE-T

The “Intel Ethernet” brand symbolizes the decades of hard work we’ve put into improving performance, features, and ease of use of our Ethernet products.

What Intel Ethernet doesn’t stand for, however, is any use of proprietary technology. In fact, Intel has been a driving force for Ethernet standards since we co-authored the original specification more than 40 years ago.

At Interop Las Vegas last week, we again demonstrated our commitment to open standards by taking part in the NBASE-T Alliance public multi-vendor interoperability demonstration. The demo leveraged our next generation single-chip 10GBASE-T controller supporting the NBASE-T intermediate speeds of 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps (see a video of that demonstration here).


Intel joined the NBASE-T Alliance in December 2014 at the highest level of membership, which allows us to fully participate in the technology development process including sitting on the board and voting for changes in the specification.

The alliance, and its 33 members, is an industry-driven consortium that has developed a working 2.5GbE / 5GbE specification that is the basis of multiple recent product announcements. Based on this experience, our engineers are working diligently now to develop the IEEE standard for 2.5G/5GBASE-T.

By first developing the technology in an industry alliance, vendors can have a working specification to develop products, and customers can be assured of interoperability.

The reason Ethernet has been so widely adopted over the past 40 years is its ability to adapt to new usage models. 10GBASE-T was originally defined to be backwards compatible to 1GbE and 100Mbs, and required category 6a or category 7 cabling to get 10GbE. Adoption of 10GBASE-T is growing very rapidly in the datacenter, and now we are seeing the need for more bandwidth in enterprise and campus networks to support the next generation 802.11AC access points, local servers, workstations, and high-end PCs.

Copper twisted pair has long been the cabling preference for enterprise data centers and campus networks, and most enterprises have miles and miles of this cable already installed throughout their buildings. In the past 10 years alone, about 70 billion meters of category 5e and category 6 cabling have been sold worldwide.

Supporting higher bandwidth connections over this installed cabling is a huge win for our customers. Industry alliances can be a useful tool to help Ethernet adapt, and the NBASE-T alliance enables the industry to address the need for higher bandwidth connections over installed cables.

Intel is the technology and market leader in 10GBASE-T network connectivity. I spoke about Intel's investment in the technology in an earlier blog about Ethernet’s ubiquity.

We are seeing rapid adoption of our 10GBASE-T products in the data center, and now through the NBASE-T Alliance we have a clear path to address enterprise customers with the need for more than 1GbE. Customers are thrilled to hear that they can get 2.5GbE/ 5GbE over their installed Cat 5e copper cabling—making higher speed networking between bandwidth-constrained endpoints achievable.

Ethernet is a rare technology in that it is both mature (more than 40 years old since its original definition in 1973) and constantly evolving to meet new network demands. Thus, it has created an expectation by users that the products will work the first time, even if they are based on brand new specifications. Our focus with Intel Ethernet products is to ensure that we implement solutions that are based on open standards and that these products seamlessly interoperate with products from the rest of the industry.

If you missed the NBASE-T demonstration at Interop, come see how it works at Cisco Live in June in San Diego.