DesignCon 2022: Automated Software Targets IEEE 802.3 Cabling

April 08, 2022 by Jeff Child

To support advanced IEEE 802.3 networking standards and shrinking test times, Rohde & Schwarz debuted two new software suite options for doing automated testing cable assemblies up to IEEE 802.3ck.

We’re back with more coverage of this week’s DesignCon 2022 show. As with yesterday’s Keysight news, once again, high-speed connectivity challenges and massive data throughput, exemplified by data center system designs are the themes.

Capitalizing on this, All About Circuits spoke to Rohde & Schwarz representatives this week and we asked them to share their insights on the new additions to the company’s R&S ZNrun suite.

In this article, we provide an overview of these new test capabilities, and share highlights from our discussion with Rohde & Schwarz about shrinking test times and keeping up with advanced emerging networking standards.


Rohde & Schwarz at DesignCon 2022

At the show, Rohde & Schwarz revealed new compliance test software for IEEE 802.3 cable assemblies. The software was developed to perform precise compliance tests of high-speed cables and backplanes according to the IEEE 802.3bj, by, cd and ck standards.


External monitor showing R&S ZNrun software suite running. Image used courtesy of Rohde & Schwarz


The new software takes the form of two new options to the company’s R&S ZNrun vector network analyzer automation (VNA) suite. The company claims the R&S ZNrun software suite to be an “all-in-one VNA automation platform for automated VNA tests.” 

The two new options are:

  • R&S ZNrun-K410, for automatic testing of cable assemblies for compliance with IEEE 802.3bj, by and cd Ethernet standards
  • R&S ZNrun-K411, for automatic testing of cable assemblies for compliance with the IEEE 802.3ck Ethernet standard

This week at DesignCon, Rohde & Schwarz ran a demo of an IEEE 802.3ck high-speed cable assembly to verify Ethernet compliance automation using the new R&S ZNrun options. The R&S ZNrun-K410 option will be available by mid-2022 and the R&S ZNrun-K411 later this year, says the company.

Being able to support testing of compliance for advanced IEEE 802.3 standards is one thing. The new offerings also offer the means to do the testing faster.


Time Saving for 802.3 Cable Assembly Test

The R&S ZNrun-K411 option can test assemblies for compliance with the IEEE 802.3ck Ethernet standard. That standard reaches data rates of 800 Gbps for 800GBASE-CR8 configurations. 

For its part, the R&S ZNrun-K410 option enables automation across the whole process. This includes measurement, postprocessing of Channel COM (Channel Operating Margin), and ERL (Effective Return Loss) results. It also does Pass/Fail and margin analysis and generates test reports. The company claims this all-in-one approach results in a considerable time savings for the cable assembly test process.

Automated testing of high-speed Ethernet cable assemblies can make a big difference compared to manual methods of Ethernet cable assembly testing. During our interview, we asked Lilia Smaoui, Product Manager for Rohde & Schwarz’s vector network analyzers, to put those speeds into context. Smaoui says that testing one of these cable assemblies manually using a 4-port VNA takes approximately one day. With the R&S ZNrun-K410 and -K411 options, the same cable assembly can be tested in about an hour.

With so much cabling out there, speeding up the testing of IEEE 802.3 cable assemblies is important. It’s an issue that will be with us for a while—copper cabling technologies won’t be going obsolete anytime soon.


Copper Cabling Still King

Data centers are the key use case for these kinds of high-speed networking cable assemblies. The huge volume of data traffic over the Internet keeps growing, and the number of data centers worldwide continues to ramp up. All that makes reliable testing of Ethernet cable assemblies a critical function. 

Fiber-optic cabling rules in the long-haul portions of the Internet, and many other types of networks. And the day may come when fiber-optic cabling becomes affordable for short data connections as well. But we’re not there yet.

Today, direct attach copper (DAC) cables remain the economical choice for short data links—the kind that are used these days in high-speed networks and data centers. These installations typically rely on a massive number of these DAC cables. IEEE standards work on Ethernet continues to prepare for copper cabling use at ever higher speeds in the coming years. Smaoui remarks that the demand for this kind of copper cabling will be with us for a while.


“There is already demand for testing these cable assemblies and there will continue to be demand in the future. DAC cabling is widely used in high-speed networks and data centers. Standards like IEEE 802.3ck are currently in-development and they enable even higher data rates per lane in the future, going up to 400GBASE-CR4 and 800GBASE-CR8.”


For their part, IEEE 802.3bj and IEEE 802.3by address data rates of 25 Gbps per lane and IEEE 802.3cd goes up to 50 Gbps per lane. Meanwhile, the latest IEEE 802.3ck standard further doubles the data rate to 100 Gbps per lane. That allows for cable assembly configurations for the 100GBASE-CR1, 200GBASE-CR2, 400GBASE-CR4 and 800GBASE-CR8 flavors of Ethernet.

As it was for many test and measurement companies, DesignCon 2022 was a good chance for Rohde & Schwarz to showcase support for those faster, emerging networking standards.


Test Setups for the New Options

For the DesignCon demo, a selection of Rohde & Schwarz pieces of test equipment were used. The test setups were based on the corresponding VNA’s such as the R&S ZNA or R&S ZNB. According to the company, support is provided for the R&S OSP open switch in order to ensure an economic multiport configuration.


Detailed view of the test setup for the R&S ZNrun software suite, along with the applicable Rohde & Schwarz test gear to do compliance testing of IEEE 802.2 cable assemblies. Image courtesy of Rohde & Schwarz. (Click to enlarge).

Detailed view of the test setup for the R&S ZNrun software suite, along with the applicable Rohde & Schwarz test gear to do compliance testing of IEEE 802.2 cable assemblies. Image [modified] used courtesy of Rohde & Schwarz (Click to enlarge).


As shown in the image above, the test setup is controlled by the R&S ZNrun VNA automation, set up to run the compliance options R&S ZNrun-K410 or -K411. The system shown claims to automate the complete test sequence, do the data collection and post-processing, and generate test reports.

Faster Networks, Faster Testing

With data centers proliferating at the same time that data traffic skyrockets, the demand for IEEE 802.3 cabling assemblies will likewise grow. 

As this new offering from Rohde & Schwarz shows, test equipment vendors are smoothing the way by supporting the new emerging Ethernet standards, while at the same time shrinking the time it takes to test the cabling assemblies for these speedy networks.