With Wi-Fi 6/6E and especially Wi-Fi 7, we naturally need faster-than-Gigabit wired connections to match -- else we'd be stuck at 1000Mbps at most. And that's where Multi-Gig comes into play.
This post will explain this type of wired connectivity in simple terms and how it's applicable today.
If your home network is currently wired for Gigabit, there's nothing you need to do regarding wiring -- it's ready. But if you're in the processing building/remodeling your home, consider adding CAT6a or higher cable grades to the budget.
So the most important takeaway is that you must get your home wired. That will make a huge difference now and years in the future.
Let's start with what Multi-Gig means.
Dong's note: I first published this post on November 23, 2021, and updated it on May 17, 2023, to add up-to-date information.
Multi-Gigabit: The base of Multi-Gig
To qualify as multi-Gigabit, a networking party involved -- a router, a client, a broadband connection, or a cellular device -- must deliver 2Gbps or faster of sustained rate in a single link.
If a device or service can deliver faster than Gigabit but slower than 2Gbps, it remains in the Gig+ realm, which is cool but not part of this post's topic.
What is Gig+
Gig+, or Gig Plus, conveys a speed grade faster than 1Gbps but slower than 2Gbps. So, it's 1.5Gbps, give or take, and it's not fast enough to be qualified as Multi-Gig or multi-Gigabit.
Gig+ generally applies to the sustained speeds of Wi-Fi 6 or 6E -- via a 2x2 at 160MHz connection which has the 2400Mbps theoretical ceiling speed -- or Internet speed and is not used to describe wired network connections.
While often interchangeably used, Multi-Gig and multi-Gigabit are not the same thing. Multi-Gig is one, albeit the most popular, way to experience multi-Gigabit.
Specifically, Multi-Gig is the name of a relatively new BASE-T wired network standard that can deliver beyond Gigabit, or 1000BASE-T, while remaining the same physically and is backward compatible with Gigabit and Fast Ethernet (100MBASE-T).
Multi-Gig has two tiers that cap at 2.5Gbps (2.5GBASE-T) and 5Gbps (5GBASE-T). However, lately, you'll find 10Gbps switches and routers -- the case of most Wi-Fi 6E and all Wi-Fi 7 hardware -- that also support these two Multi-Gig grades.
And that begs the question: Is 10Gbps part of Multi-Gig?
The answer is a bit complicated. We have two different 10Gbps standards to start with. One is the 10Gbps BASE-T (10GBASE-T), and the other is the SFP+.
BASE-T vs SFP+
This type is known via a misnomer called Registered Jack 45 or RJ45. So we'll keep calling it RJ45.
On the other hand, the SFP or SFP+ (plus) port type is used for telecommunication and data communication, mostly in enterprise applications. SFP stands for small form-factor pluggable and is the technical name for what is often referred to as Fiber Channel or Fiber.
For data communication, an SFP+ port has speed grades of either 1Gbps or 10Gbps. The older version, SFP, can only do 1Gbps, though it shares the same port type as SFP+. This type of port standard is more strict in compatibility and more reliable in performance.
While physically different, BASE-T and SFP/+ are parts of the Ethernet family, sharing the same networking principles and Ethernet naming convention -- Gigabit Ethernet (1Gbps) or 10 Gigabit Ethernet (a.k.a 10GE, 10GbE, or 10 GigE).
Generally, you can get an adapter to connect a BASE-T device to an SFP or SFP+ port. Still, in this case, compatibility can be an issue -- a particular adapter might only work (well) with the SFP/+ port of certain hardware vendors.
The BASE-T wiring is more popular thanks to its simple design and flexibility in speed support. Some routers and switches have an RJ45/SFP+ combo which includes two physical ports of each type, but you can use one at a time.
OK. So, 10GBASE-T sure is part of Multi-Gig, then?
The answer is both yes and no.
No, because the 10GBASE-T wired standard came out long before the concept of Multi-Gig. It's the friendly name of the IEEE 802.3an-2006 specification that was first available in 2006.
Per its specifications, 10GBASE-T requires CAT6 (or later) cable grade to deliver 10Gbps. When hooked to CAT5e, this standard supposedly connects only at Gigabit.
As a result, for years, a CAT5e-ready home would need rewiring, a high-cost and labor-intensive task, to get 10Gbps. A decade or so ago, Gigabit was more than fast enough -- it's still plenty fast today in most cases. The rewiring requirement has caused the 10Gbps BASE-T standard to never take off.
In 2016, the new Multi-Gig standard was formed to fill the gap between Gigabit and 10Gbps -- with 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps -- while remaining compatible with all previous BASE-T standards. Most importantly, Multi-Gig supports CAT5e, the popular and affordable network infrastructure in many homes and offices.
And here's the interesting part: With the availability of Multi-Gig, it turns out CAT5e can deliver 10Gbps, albeit at a shorter distance (cable length) than CAT6 or higher cable grades. That has consistently been the case in my testing.
The distance (length) in which each type of network cable can deliver up to 10Gbps:
- CAT5e: 45 meters (148 feet)
- CAT6: 55 meters (180 feet)
- CAT6a: 100 meters (328 feet)
- CAT7: Over 100 meters
For virtually all homes, the popular CAT5e cable is enough. You can expect it to deliver 10Gbps-grade speeds. Even in the worst-case scenario, solid 5Gbps sustained speed is common.
Nowadays, switches and routers with 10GBASE-T ports also support Multi-Gig (5Gbps, 2.5Gbps), Gigabit, and lower RJ45 grades. It's hard, if not impossible, to find a 10GBASE-T device released after 2016 that doesn't also feature Multi-Gig.
Consequently, yes, it's safe to count the 10GBASE-T standard as part of Multi-Gig, though technically, both are part of multi-Gigabit. But that's only semantics.
Extra: Home routers and 10Gbps Ethernet
To deliver (close to) true 10Gbps, a router needs more than just a couple of 10Gbps Ethernet network ports. It also requires high processing power and applicable firmware to handle this bandwidth.
Generally, Multi-Gig home and SMB routers, including top-tier ones, do not have enough to deliver true 10Gbps (10,000Mbps) throughputs. After "overhead", they sustain at around 6,500Mbps, give or take. (A similar thing can be said about most 10Gbps switches, though they tend to have better-sustained rates than routers.)
That's partially why more home Wi-Fi routers support the lowest tier of Multi-Gig, 2.5Gbps, than those with 10Gbps ports. In this case, you can expect them to deliver close to 2,500Mbps in real-world speeds.
Multi-Gig and you
To take advantage of the Multi-Gig standard, you will need new hardware.
Multi-Gig saves you from having to run new network cables, but if you need to run new cables anyway, pick CAT6a or a later grade. Again, to get Multi-Gig, wiring is required.
If you have good coax wiring, you might be able to get away with using MoCA.
If you think you don't need Multi-Gig because Gigabit is already fast enough, you might be right. However, remember that a Gigabit connection doesn't deliver true 1Gbps (1000Mbps) sustained rates. After overheads, you'll get around 500Mbps to 900Mbps. So Multi-Gig is the only way to have real Gigaibit.
A router with a Multi-Gig WAN port is required if you want to enjoy Gigabit broadband.
The point is Multi-Gig is the way of the future. Whether or not you need it, you want it.
How to upgrade your home to Multi-Gig
To have a Multi-Gig connection, the two devices at the two ends of a link must support this standard, and the data throughput between a pair always caps at the rate of the slower member.
You'll also find routers or switches with just one Multi-Gig port, with the rest being Gigabit. In this case, the Multi-Gig port is not useless. The device hosted by a Multi-Gig port can simultaneously deliver full Gigabit connections to multiple devices.
For example, a server connected at 5Gbps to a router can theoretically deliver full 1Gbps speed to up to five Gigabit devices simultaneously.
Many home routers have just a single Multi-Gig port. In this case, the port can work exclusively or selectively for the WAN or LAN sides. The former (WAN side) is for those with super-fast broadband speed, and the latter is for those with a super-fast local client, like a NAS server.
But to have a true multi-Gigabit connection, we need a router or switch with at least two Multi-Gig ports. On this front, the more high-speed ports, the better, and a Multi-Gig switch will help.
Devices connected to a switch will have the switch's speed grade independent from the router. So for local Multi-Gig connectivity, you don't need a Multi-Gig router, just a switch.
Specifically, if you have a Gigabit router -- the case of most existing routers -- and a Multi-Gig switch, wired devices connected to the switch will enjoy Multi-Gig speeds between themselves as long as they do they also support 2.5Gbps, 5Gbps, or 10Gbps.
Multi-Gigabit: Wi-Fi vs Multi-Gig
Even though Wi-Fi 6/6E can deliver multi-Gigabit Wi-Fi speeds on paper, that's not been the case in real life.
The sustained rates of all routers I've tested are capped between 1Gbps and 1.6Gbps because there are only mid-tier 2x2 clients.
The upcoming Wi-Fi 7 is even faster, but its real-world connection speeds also depend on the clients. And, for now, the only currently available Wi-Fi 7 device, the One Plus 11 5G, also doesn't sustain faster than Gig+. It just doesn't ever need more than that.
And all of these high-end routers come with Multi-Gig ports. The first Wi-Fi 7 router, TP-Link Deco BE85, no longer has Gigabit ports.
That's to say, the only way to have a true multi-Gigabit experience, wired or wireless, is via Multi-Gig. So get your home wired and have at least a Multi-Gig switch to connect your devices, including Wi-Fi broadcasters.
Extra: Real-world Multi-Gig speeds
In networking, there's a difference between theoretical and sustained real-world speed. While wired connections have less overhead than Wi-Fi, the Multi-Gig standard has its discrepancy.
After testing dozens of Multi-Gig routers and switches, I'd say we need to discount between 15 to 40 percent from their ceiling seeds to get real-world performances. Below are the charts of Multi-Gig switches and routers with two or more Multi-Gig ports I've tested.
Generally, the higher the grade, the more percentage of potential bandwidth loss. Specifically, the 2.5GBASE-T delivers closer to 2500Mbps of sustained speeds than 10GBASE-T to 10000Mbps. But it's always case by case.
Most importantly, if somebody tells you that their Multi-Gig or 10GBASE-T device can deliver (close to) the ceiling speed, take it with a grain of salt. As mentioned above, similar to the fact we need Multi-Gig to deliver Gigabit in full, we also need an even faster standard (20Gbps or more) to experience true 10Gbps.
And we'll get there at some point. Until then, Multi-Gig has proven to be always fast enough to qualify as a true multi-Gigabit experience. And that's a good thing.
In many ways, the Multi-Gig standard (2.5Gbps and 5Gbps) is somewhat of a "hack" to get us significantly beyond 1Gbps in a wired network using existing CAT5e (or higher) wiring.
This standard is a lesser variant of 10GBASE-T -- though the two are now blurred into one -- and a sweet spot that allows us to take full advantage of Wi-Fi 6/6E and Wi-Fi 7 without spending on replacing the existing infrastructure.
If you're into this non-compromising performance, get your home wired and a pair of a Multi-Gig switch and a Multi-Gig router. The result can be pretty exciting for Gigabit or faster broadband. If you have fast Internet, give Multi-Gig a try today!