3 Reasons to Switch to Gigabit Ethernet

You may have read about how the IEEE has formed a group to tackle Terabit Ethernet in the wake of a report showing that global bandwidth will rise more than tenfold by 2015. What caught my attention in the IEEE 802.3 Industry Connections Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment report (page 16 of the pdf file), is that more than 20 percent of data center deployments still run on antiquated 100Mbps networks.

Though the figure is projected to drop below 10 percent come 2013, it had me thinking of small businesses that may still be running a Fast Ethernet local area network (LAN). On this front, I’ve listed three reasons why your small business should make the switch to Gigabit Ethernet.

Speed and Affordability

Gigabit Ethernet is fast and able to meet the data transfer needs of most small businesses. To illustrate: A 1GB file takes less than 15 seconds to transfer across a gigabit network, compared to more than 2.5 minutes on a Fast Ethernet network. Indeed, mid-level network attached storage (NAS) appliances that I’ve tested over a Gigabit Ethernet network have comparable performance to that of a fast local hard disk drive; combining two cables using link aggregation further increases the speed.

Performance aside, Gigabit Ethernet switches are also affordable enough for desktop deployments — check out the new Gigabit Switches for SMBs by Zyxel.

Upgradable Network

Ethernet has always been designed to be easily upgradable and where possible, backwards compatible. A small business setting up a wired Ethernet environment for the first time will probably want to lay Cat 6a cable for inherent support of up to 10Gbps. This is especially true in the server closet, or for uplinks between buildings. Companies that plan to upgrade — and have existing Cat 5e infrastructure in place — can switch to Gigabit Ethernet without any rewiring needed.

Speed up your Wi-Fi

The fastest ratified Wi-Fi specification in the market today would be 802.11n, which in 3×3 mode offers up to 450Mbps of raw throughput. This works out to be 900Mbps if operating at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, though the numbers are completely theoretical.

On a practical note, I’ve seen business-grade 3×3-capable Wi-Fi access points push 300Mbps in speed tests. This makes it evident that sticking to 100Mbps Fast Ethernet will only serve to limit Wi-Fi devices.

In conclusion, the sheer performance and affordability of Gigabit Ethernet is reason enough for an upgrade. If this doesn’t convince you, consider its potential for future upgradability, and how a Gigabit Ethernet LAN will serve BYOD well by not hampering the performance of your wireless network access points.

Paul Mah covers technology for SMBs for Small Business Computing and for IT Business Edge. He also shares his passion for and knowledge of everything from networking to operating systems as an instructor at Republic Polytechnic in Singapore, and is a contributor to a number of tech sites, including Ars Technica and TechRepublic.

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