In case you haven’t heard, Wi-Fi 7 is around the corner, and with it, we’ll likely need faster-than-Gigabit wired connections to match the speed.
And, in most existing homes or offices, that’s where Multi-Gig comes into play. This post will explain in layman’s terms this type of wired connectivity.
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.
Table of Contents
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+
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.
Gig+ generally applies to the sustained speeds of Wi-Fi 6 or 6E (via a 2×2 connection) or Internet speed, not wired local connections.
However, strictly in the realm of wired networking, Multi-Gig is a bit different. It’s a type of BASE-T RJ45 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 considered Multi-Gig?
10Gbps BASE-T vs Multi-Gig
This is an interesting question because there’s another 10Gbps network standard, known as SFP+, that sure is not part of the Multi-Gig approach.
BASE-T vs SFP+
The BASE-T (or BaseT) port type refers to the wiring method used inside a network cable and the connectors at its ends, which is 8-position 8-contact (8P8C). This type is known via a misnomer called Registered Jack 45 or RJ45. So we’ll keep calling it RJ45.
But there’s also SFP or SFP+ (plus) port type, used mostly for enterprise applications. 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 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. And that’s all you need to know about SFP/+.
While physically different, both Base-T and SFP/+ are part of the Ethernet family. They share the same networking principles and, at the same speed grades, you can call them the same, such as Gigabit Ethernet (1Gbps) or 10 Gigabit Ethernet (a.k.a 10GE, 10GbE, or 10 GigE). For this reason, using the Ethernet naming can be confusing.
BASE-T is more popular by far and it’s also more flexible in speed support and backward compatibility. Faster-than-Gigabit Base-T is often referred to as Multi-Gig which includes 2.5GBASE-T (2.5Gbps) and 5GBASE-T (5Gbps).
Generally, you can get an adapter to use a BaseT device with 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.
OK, so 10Gbps BASE-T sure is part of Multi-Gig then?
Well, technically, the 10Gbps BASE-T wired standard that delivers up to 10Gbps came out much 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, 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. It’s also the reason for the general knowledge that CAT5e can not deliver 10Gbps.
Multi-Gig, on the other hand, didn’t materialize until 2016 as the IEEE 802.3bz standard. It shares the same wiring as Gigabit (and 10Gbps BASE-T) and can deliver 2.5Gbps or 5Gbps using CAT5e.
The notion that you can use existing infrastructure to deliver faster-than-Gigabit connection speeds is the main objective of Multi-Gig.
And, with the availability of Multi-Gig, it turns out that CAT5e can also deliver 10Gbps, but just at a shorter distance (cable length) than higher cable grades.
As a result, you’ll note that modern 10Gbps Multi-Gig switches, such as the TP-Link TL-SX1008, generally also support 5Gbps, 2.5Gbps, and lower speed grades. In fact, there are very few 10Gbps BASE-T devices that don’t support Multi-Gig speeds.
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. At the very least, it will deliver up to 5Gbps, which is more than fast enough for any application.
So, again, the gist of Multi-Gig is that you can for sure get faster-than-Gigabit using the existing CAT5e cables. And that’s the beauty of it. It was meant to be the bridge between Gigabit and 10Gbps BASE-T.
But Multi-Gig has outdone the expectations by proving that CAT5e wiring is capable of delivering 10Gbps, which has consistently been the case in my testing. Consequently, it’s safe to count the 10Gbps BASE-T standard as part of Multi-Gig, though technically it’s not.
Home routers and 10Gbps Ethernet
To deliver (close to) true 10Gbps, a router needs more than just a couple of 10Gbps Ethernet network ports. Among other things, it also needs high processing power (and good firmware) to handle this type of traffic.
Most home routers, including top-tier ones, so far, generally do not meet all the requirements for true 10Gbps (10,000Mbps) throughputs. Consequently, after “overhead” they sustain at 6,000Mbps, give or take, on a good day. (The same thing can be said about most 10Gbps switches.)
That’s partially why more home Wi-Fi routers support the lowest tier of Multi-Gig, which is with 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 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, you also need a supported client. 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.
Most importantly, within a router, or a switch, a Multi-Gig port can deliver a full Gigabit connection to multiple Gigabit devices at a time. So if you have a server connected at 5Gbps, up to five Gigabit devices can pull data from it at 1Gbps simultaneously.
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 — desktops, game consoles, printers, 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.
- WAN to LAN: This is the case for those with a Gig+ or Multi-Gig broadband connection — a Multi-Gig WAN port can deliver a full Gigabit Internet to one or more clients (LAN) simultaneously.
- 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 BASE-T and a sweet spot that allows us to take full advantage of Wi-Fi 6/e and even Wi-Fi 7 without having to spend on replacing the existing infrastructure.