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.
And, in most existing homes or offices, that’s where Multi-Gig comes into play. This post will explain in simple terms this type of wired connectivity and why it’s so applicable today.
But 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, consider adding CAT6a or even higher cable grades to the budget.
The point is this: Get your home wired. That little detail will make a huge difference now and years in the future.
Table of Contents
Multi-Gigabit connection: The Basics
Let’s get on the same page regarding 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 — must deliver 2Gbps or faster in a single link.
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 at 160MHz 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
Before we get to the 10GbE Based-T standard, there’s another 10Gbps network standard, known as SFP+, which is not part of the Multi-Gig approach.
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 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, Base-T and SFP/+ are both 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 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.
BASE-T is more popular thanks to its flexibility in speed support and backward compatibility. Faster-than-Gigabit Base-T is often called Multi-Gig, which includes 2.5GBASE-T (2.5Gbps) and 5GBASE-T (5Gbps).
There are routers and switches that include an RJ45/SFP+ combo port — there are two physical ports but you can use one at a time.
So, 10Gbps BASE-T sure is part of Multi-Gig, then?
The 10GbE BASE-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, 10Gbps BASE-T requires CAT6a (or higher) cable grade and only works at 10Gbps or Gigabit. Consequently, folks are expected to rewire their home since CAT5e has been widely used. It’s also the reason for the common 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) but can deliver 2.5Gbps or 5Gbps using CAT5e.
The main objective of Multi-Gig is that you can use existing infrastructure to deliver faster-than-Gigabit connection speeds.
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, very few 10Gbps-only BASE-T devices don’t support Multi-Gig rates.
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 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 exceeded expectations by proving that CAT5e wiring can deliver 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. Some older and strict 10GbE Base-T devices don’t work well, if at all, with Multi-Gig counterparts.
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.
Generally, home routers, including top-tier ones, do not meet all the requirements for true 10Gbps (10,000Mbps) throughputs. After “overhead,” they sustain at around 6,500Mbps, give or take, on a good day. (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, 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.
Multi-Gig is backward compatible, so it’ll work at 10Gbps, 5Gbps, 2.5Gbps, 1Gbip, or 100Mbps, depending on the devices involved. 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.
Most importantly, within a router, or a switch, a Multi-Gig device hosted by a Multi-Gig port can deliver full Gigabit connections 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, 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: 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 support both WAN and LAN sides 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 in real life. The sustained rates of all routers I’ve tested capped 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
Since most existing wired devices — 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 Internet port (WAN) can deliver full Gigabit Internet to at least one client in the local network (LAN) and then some, simultaneously. It’s about the extra bandwidth.
- Router to (NAS) server: This is where you get your NAS server to connect to the router via Multi-Gig. It allows for full Gigabit connections to at least two (or more) clients.
- Faster router-based NAS performance: If you 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.
- A full Mulit-Gig network: This is when you have a router with two or more Multi-Gig ports to host this type of connection on both WAN and LAN sides. Throw a Multi-Gig switch in the mix and you’ll get a complete Mulit-Gig wired network.
While the applications might vary and are still relatively limited, the bottom line is that it never hurts to have multi-Gig-capable hardware. At the same time, though, in many cases, going Multi-Gig makes no difference.
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 10Gbps BASE-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 even Wi-Fi 7 without spending on replacing the existing infrastructure.