In case you haven’t heard, Wi-Fi 7 is around the corner, and with it, we’ll going to need faster-than-Gigabit wired connections. And, in most cases, that’s where Multi-Gig comes into play.
This post will explain in layman’s terms this type of wired connectivity. But here’s the bottom line: If your home network is currently wired for Gigabit, there’s nothing you need to do in terms of wiring — it’s ready.
But if you’re in the processing building/remodeling your home, get it wired with CAT6a or even higher cable grades.
Multi-Gigabit connection: The Basics
Let’s get on the same page on what Multi-Gig means.
As the name suggests, to qualify as multi-Gigabit, a party involved — be it a router, a client, a broadband connection, or even a cellular device — needs to deliver 2Gbps or faster in a single connection.
What is Gig+
You might have run into Gig+ (that’s “Gig plus”), where the connection is faster than 1Gbps but slower than 2Gbps.
Gig+ generally applies to Wi-Fi or Internet speed and not wired local connections. And technically, it’s not fast enough to qualify as multi Gig.
However, strictly in wired networking, Multi-Gig is a bit different. It’s a type of BASE-T network port that can deliver beyond 1Gbps while remaining the same physically and backward compatible.
Eventually, in a router, the idea of wired multi-Gigabit connections would mean having 10Gbps ports, but, for now, we also have qualified ports that deliver up to 5Gbps or 2.5Gbps.
And that brings us to the first question: Is 10Gbps Multi-Gig?
10Gbps BASE-T vs Multi-Gig
Technically, the 10Gbps BASE-T wired standard that delivers up to 10Gbps came out much before Multi-Gig. It’s the IEEE 802.3an-2006 specification that was first available in 2006.
Generally, 10Gbps BASE-T requires CAT6a (or higher) cable grade, and that means in most cases, initially, folks are expected to rewire their home since CAT5e has been widely used.
Multi-Gig, on the other hand, didn’t materialize until 2016. It’s the IEEE 802.3bz standard. Multi-Gig shares the same wiring as Gigabit (and 10Gbps BASE-T) and can deliver 2.5Gbps or 5Gbps on the existing CAT5e.
Here’s the exciting part, with the availability of Multi-Gig, it turns out that CAT5e can also deliver 10Gbps, but just at a shorter distance than higher cable grades.
As a result, you’ll note that modern 10Gbps Multi-Gig switches, such as the TP-Link TL-SX1008, will also support 5Gbps and 2.5Gbps speed grades.
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 up to 10Gbps. But even if yours doesn’t for some reason, it for sure can deliver up to 5Gbps, more than fast enough for any application.
But it doesn’t hurt to run higher-grade (and more expensive) cables.
So the gist is Multi-Gig means you can for sure get faster-than-Gigabit using the existing CAT5e cables.
And that’s the beauty of it. And since CAT5e can also deliver 10Gbps, it’s safe to count 10Gbps as part of Multi-Gig, though technically it’s not.
Extra: BASE-T vs SFP+
When it comes to wired networking, we generally talk about the BASE-T or BaseT type network connection — the name refers to the wiring method used inside the network cable.
Once in a while, chances are you’ll also find the SFP or SFP+ (plus) port type, which has limited home use — it’s mostly for enterprise applications — but its networking applications share the same principles as Base-T.
SFP stands for small form pluggable and is the technical name for what is often referred to as Fiber Channel or Fiber.
An SFP+ port can connect at either 1Gbps or 10Gbps — the older version SFP can only do 1Gbps. The two share the same port type. That’s all you need to know about this standard. Base-T is the most popular by far.
Generally, you can get an adapter to use a BaseT device with an SFP+ port, but in this case, compatibility can be an issue — a particular adapter only works (well) with the SFP+ port of certain hardware vendors.
Multi-Gig in your home
Assuming your current home is wired for Gigabit — again, that’s CAT5e or higher — you can easily upgrade it to Multi-Gig. All you need is a Multi-Gig router or Multi-Gig switch.
To have a Multi-Gig connection, though, requires a supported client, too. That’s because data throughput between a pair always caps at the rate of the bottleneck member.
But a Multi-Gig device can also connect at a lower BASE-T speed, be it 5Gbps, 2.5Gbps, 1Gbps, or even 100Mbps.
Devices connected to a switch will have the speed grade of the switch, independently from the router. So for local Multi-Gig connectivity, you don’t need a Multi-Gig router, but just a switch.
Specifically, if you have a Gigabit router — like the case of the majority of existing routers — and a Multi-Gig switch, then wired devices connected to the switch will enjoy Multi-Gig speeds between themselves as long as they also support 2.5Gbps, 5Gbps, or 10Gbps.
Multi-Gigabit: WAN vs LAN
If a home router has one Multi-Gig port, this port generally can work for the WAN side or the LAN side, exclusively or selectively. The former is for those with super-fast broadband speed, and the latter is for those with a super-fast local client, like a NAS server.
Ideally, you want a router with more than one Multi-Gig port to use one for the WAN side and the other for the LAN side simultaneously. In this case, the router itself can host one Multi-Gig device (like a server), or you can add a Multi-Gig switch — their prices are getting lower — to extend your Multi-Gig wired network.
Multi-Gigabit: Wi-Fi vs wired
Even though Wi-Fi 6/E can deliver Multi-Gig Wi-Fi speeds on paper, that’s not been the case so far in real life. The sustained rates of all routers I’ve tested capped at between 1Gbps and 1.6Gbps.
That’s because currently, we have only 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 clients, such as the Intel AX2xx modules, and all have sustained speeds, at best, below 2Gbps. For this reason, they are called Gig+ adapters.
On top of that, keep in mind that Wi-Fi, including Wi-Fi 6, has crazy overheads. More on that in this post about Wi-Fi 6. And that’s true even with the all-new Wi-Fi 6E variant. Future Wi-Fi standards, like Wi-Fi 7, will likely be similar in terms of efficiency.
Things might change when/if faster (4×4) clients are available. Still, for true Multi-Gig wireless connections, you need to get your home wired and at least a Multi-Gig switch to connect the Wi-Fi broadcaster to the network.
By the way, that’s also the way I test Wi-Fi.
The current use of Multi-Gigabit
Considering most existing wired devices — desktop, game consoles, printer, and so on — support only Gigabit, chances are you don’t need Multi-Gigabit throughout the home yet.
For now, here are a few applications where Multi-Gig will play nicely.
- Router to (NAS) server: This is where you get your NAS server to connect to the router via Multi-Gig. This allows for full Gigabit connections to at least two (or more) clients.
- Faster router-based NAS performance: If you choose to turn your router into a mini NAS server, its Multi-Gig connection will give that one multi-Gig-capable client the best NAS performance.
- Wi-Fi 6/e access points: Most Wi-Fi 6/e access points, such as the EnGenius EWS850AP or the Netgear WAX630 has a 2.5Gbps port. In this case, feeding them with a Multi-Gig connection means you’ll get the best Wi-Fi performance.
While the applications might vary and are still relatively limited for now, the bottom line is it never hurts to have multi-Gig-capable hardware. At the same time, though, in many cases, going Multi-Gig makes no difference at all.
In many ways, the Multi-Gig standard (2.5Gbps and 5Gbps) is somewhat a “hack” to get us significantly beyond 1Gbps in a wired network using existing CAT5e wiring.
This standard is a lesser variant of 10Gbps and a sweet spot that allows us to take full advantage of Wi-Fi 6/e and even Wi-Fi 7 without spending a lot of existing infrastructure.