Before you retire your 802.11n router, have you taken into consideration that the standard took 7 long years to finally reach completion?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) had to appease a group of 400 participants comprised of competing manufacturers, engineers, and academic institutions from around the world in order to finally approve the standard. Because the IEEE addresses all comments and appeals, the standardization process turned into a protracted dispute among vendors.

But it seems history is bound to repeat itself.  The formation of two independent and competing alliances, NBASE-T and MGBASE-T, have started producing protocols for 2.5 G and 5G Ethernet without IEEE’s jurisdiction.

Competition between these two alliances can turn into another 802.11n episode of vendor warfare.

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IEEE’s standardization process resembles a democratic bureaucracy where competing companies can bring a standard to a gridlock, as occurred in the case of the 802.11n ratification process. Though standardization is a lengthy process, it ensures maximum compatibility and protects consumers by ensuring that devices from different vendors can operate with each other.

Nevertheless, IEEE doesn’t prevent companies from manufacturing products based on draft standards or from manufacturing proprietary technology that does not adhere to IEEE’s standards. But it’s in a company’s best interest to manufacture networking equipment that meets certification standards to warrant customer trust in their networking equipment.

MGbase-T vs Nbase-T
The NBASE-T and MGBASE-T alliances are both addressing a market need for 2.5G and 5G Ethernet that would enable networks to keep their existing copper infrastructure to adopt faster Wi-Fi equipment.

But Technology Blogger Sebastian Anthony notes:

“Both of these “alliances” are made up of big players — Cisco is heading up NBASE, while Broadcom is over in the MGBASE camp — but neither are ratified  by the IEEE…Neither group is promising interoperability with each other… It actually seems like both alliances plan to commercialize their own  tech, attempt to popularize it, and then try to get the IEEE to recognize their standard as the winner.”

The MGBASE-T Alliance began recruiting participants June and the NBASE-T alliance followed suit in September. Both alliances claim that they are creating IEEE-friendly protocols.MGvsNbaseT-comparison

The Chair of the Ethernet Alliance Board of Directors, John D’Ambrosia, welcomes the competition stating that “While the goal is to have a single specification for Ethernet standards… having multiple solutions is a good thing.” IEEE could merge these two alliances and risk delaying the ratification process due to disagreements among different vendors, recognize one alliance, or, as John D’Ambrosia suggests, certify both standards and give customers two options that accomplish the same task.

The IEEE currently operates as the central source of authority that dictates which standards to pursue based on the votes of participating members. The non-profit organization promotes competition among different vendors and prevents proprietary technology that would inhibit interoperability and backwards compatibility from emerging. IEEE’s standardization process is a six step procedure that depends upon the cooperation of competing companies to set protocols in order to move the project forward.

Would you trust a non-certified 2.5G or 5G Ethernet solution that would allow you to support faster networking equipment over existing copper cabling infrastructures?

Update: IEEE’s 802.3BZ Task force overseeing the standardization of 2.5G and 5G Ethernet finally meet. Read what happened when the MGBASE-T and NBASE-T Alliances were finally forced to collaborate.

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