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New Category 8 cable: Data centers' solution for higher bandwidth

What Category 8 copper cabling will do for the data center is let them transport data four times faster on essentially the same type of cable they now use.
Aug 26, 2013

Today we’re going to talk about Category 8, the next generation twisted-pair cabling specifications. We found this informative post on Cabling Install. We’re going to bring you some of the highlights of the post today, which you’ll see shaded in grey.

Category 8 Cable

“What Category 8 copper cabling will do for the data center is let them transport data four times faster on essentially the same type of cable they now use,” says Sterling Vaden, chair of TIA 42.7, the TIA subcommittee on copper cabling systems. “That makes great sense application-wise and economically, because the intended data rate being developed by IEEE is 40-Gb, 4 times faster than 10GBase-T, using the same or less power per port, which has an unofficial target of less than 2 Watts.”

Overcoming Physical Limitations

Most likely composed of four (4) shielded copper twisted pairs, with the similar overall diameter as Category 6A and Category 7A cables, the Category 8 cabling system under development also will use the popular modular RJ-45 style of connectors. The intention of the Category 8 standard is to be fully backwards compatible with the previous Category 6A and lower standards.

In order to support the 40Gb data transmission, Vaden anticipates that the overall length of the Category 8 cabling channel will be limited to 30 meters. This has been determined as an objective of the IEEE Next Generation BASE-T Study Group.

“That is the direction that the IEEE is going in terms of supporting the 40-Gb data rate over twisted-pair cabling,” Vaden explains. “We’ve performed cabling surveys in order to assess what the reach needs are within the typical data center, and the surveys indicate that the majority of the applications within the data center can be serviced with a 30-meter overall reach. The results of these surveys have also been reviewed and confirmed in the IEEE study group.”

The biggest question asked by data center users about the new standard, according to Vaden, is how are you going to go four times faster over the RJ-45 connector?Leveraging Legacy Equipment.

“The enhancement needed to improve the performance through the wider bandwidth is basically a refinement of the manufacturing processes,” Vaden says. “Without going into a discussion of proprietary techniques, manufacturing processes must be more accurately controlled in order to have consistent performance up to these higher frequencies.”

Vaden’s employer, OCC, is one of the key players in developing new standards and requirements and also products that test and service those requirements. OCC also offers that equipment to the standards bodies as a basis for reference measurements, as well as contributing the basic parameters around which the testing needs to be done in order to assure compliance to the standards.

Leveraging Legacy Infrastructure

According to Vaden, Category 8 cables will physically be very similar to shielded Category 6A or Category 7A cables. The conductor size will not change, nor should the overall diameter.

“Category 6A and Category 7A cables and earlier versions have been sold into the data center marketplace for a long time,” he adds. “They are very well understood. Data cabling is much less expensive than other data center equipment. Plus, the service life of copper cabling, including Category 8, is 20 years. So, it seems very logical to suggest that when data center managers install copper cabling, they should install the highest performing cabling, so that when they upgrade other equipment, they can plug it in without having to re-do the cabling plan.”

All things considered, Vaden says he believes the intention of TIA-568-C.2-1 Balanced Twisted-Pair Telecommunications Cabling and Components Standard, Addendum 1: Specifications for 100Ω Category 8 Cabling, is to provide a familiar and economical solution that is easy to implement.

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