Category 8 Connectivity – Coming Soon to a Building Near You

By Bob Eastman

The Telecommunication Industry Association (TIA) Engineering Committee TR42.7  is charged with developing and maintaining telecommunications cabling infrastructure standards that support premise network and communications systems. The committee has been quietly working on a Category 8 cable connectivity standard referred to as TIA 568-C.2-1 Draft 0.7. Their objectives to establish minimum design and performance parameters for manufacturers to engineers build and offer. These new Standards include:

  • Cable connectivity solutions to support 40 gigabit per second (Gb/s) network bandwidth over a 4-pair twisted cable.
  • Network transport electronics to deliver 40Gb/s performance over a 4-pair twisted cable.
  • A system that is backward compatible with existing 1Gb/s and 10Gb/s network systems.
  • A system that is back compatible with the standard 8-pin modulator connectors (RJ45 type) installed throughout buildings.
  • The TIA TR42 Engineering Committee is working to publish the new Standard by the end 2015

What is it?

A Category 8 connectivity system consists of a suite of cable and connecting hardware (plugs, connectors, patch, panels and patch cords). By implication, it also includes the means to test, measure, and certify the performance of a system to ensure it behaves as expected. Category 8 systems shall support network signals up to 2000 MHz. which is required to process the complicated signaling algorithms of the network components. In essence, the transmit signal must be strong enough and clean enough when it arrives at the receiver. As with all signaling systems, electromechanical forces at work corrupt the signals. In contrast, standards based category 5E connectivity system support 100 MHz signals (1Gb/s), category 6 connectivity 250 MHz signals (1Gb/s) and category 6A connectivity 500 MHz signals (10Gb/s). So the industry has their challenges engineering category 8 solutions.

Category 8 system may be available in shielded and/or unshielded varieties, but time will tell. If given a choice, I predict unshielded systems will win out in North American and shielded systems will win out in Europe.

What is it Not?

When the Standard is finalized and the components/systems are available in the marketplace, category 8 connectivity systems will not be another choice when choosing and installing a structured horizontal cable system for your building. It will not compete with or replace the category 5e, 6 or 6A systems presently installed in buildings today. Why not? Category 8 systems will be limited to a 30 meter distance limitation (the “channel” measured end to end or plug to plug including patch cords). Standards based building infrastructures are designed around the 100 meter distance limitation enjoyed by category 5e, 6 and 6A system.

Who Will Need it?

Category 8 systems are being developed to support the bandwidth demands of networked devices typically installed in data centers, i.e.: servers and data storage devices. At present, 40Gb/s connections in data centers are supported by twinax cable systems (limited to 7 meters) and optical fiber system, but higher performing twisted pair cable system will be less costly and easier to install. Parallel to the cost of the cable system is the cost of server network cards and network switches, and data center owners will opt to choose the more cost effective twisted pair based transceivers. As depicted in the chart below, the need for higher network throughput has caused a paradigm shift in the chosen network connections and 40Gb/s is poised to displace previous options. The cost savings associated with a category 8 twisted pair connectivity will be significant.

Change is inevitable. Consider new connectivity options as they become available.  Be prepared and build flexibility and capacity into your infrastructure to accommodate change.

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