Why single-pair Ethernet cables could be set for a boom

Why single-pair Ethernet cables could be set for a boom

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For many years now, the development of new structured cabling solutions has revolved around the principle that as demand for more complex voice and data applications grows, bandwidth needs will only increase.

Therefore, cabling has evolved to meet these expectations, with four-pair, balanced UTP, STP or S/FTP cables that can support up to 40Gbps over distances of up to 30 metres now standard.

However, while these cables will undoubtedly be essential in helping meet the growing demands of today's data-driven businesses, there is another category of networking emerging for which these solutions may be significantly over-engineered - though necessary for smart buildings and other Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

The IoT is one of the biggest trends in the IT sector at the moment, with some forecasts suggesting there may be as many as 30 billion connected devices in use around the world by the end of 2018.

But the vast majority of these sensors - such as HVAC systems, smart lighting, access control and security systems - require very little bandwidth individually, typically transmitting just a few bytes of data for each event trigger. This, therefore, is changing the requirements for the next generation of cabling solutions.

Network World notes that the lower bandwidth required for these devices has led the IEEE to develop a new Ethernet protocol that is designed to operate over a single pair of UTP/STP cables. Standards for this protocol - assumed to be known as 10Base-T1, are expected to be approved in June 2019, and promise to hold several advantages over existing single-pair solutions.

They are expected to be low-cost, small and require less power consumption than current options, and are expected to be the preferred choice when designing infrastructure for sensors, actuators and other low data consumption devices.

Initially, the industrial sector is expected to be a key market for 10Base-T1 solutions, but as low-power, sensor-based networks become more ubiquitous, applications for such systems will extend far beyond traditional cabling solutions.

Cables supporting these applications will in many cases need to be as compact as possible, as they will be used to connect hundreds, if not thousands, of individual sensors across a commercial network. Network World stated that in order to meet these needs, it is to expected that cables will have 24 AWG conductors sheathed in thin jackets to reduce the cross-sectional size of the cable. 

A maximum frequency of just 200MHz will be adequate for the needs of the devices, but will also ensure there are no alien crosstalk concerns, meaning cables can be bundled tighter without fear of signal interference.

This compares favourably to standard Cat6A cables for such applications, as these offerings are often designed with thick jackets and more widely-spaced conductors in order to reduce crosstalk issues,which increases the size of the cables, making them inconvenient for the type of IoT connections that will be required in the coming years.

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