Ethernet: a key enabler in today’s hyper-connected world

Ethernet: a key enabler in today’s hyper-connected world

By John D’Ambrosia, chair of the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group, and advisor to the European Phonotics industry Consortium EPIC

With the recent rollout of 5G internet in 2019, people now expect their internet connections on their mobile devices to be faster than ever before. However, connecting to the internet on a mobile device can often be a slow and arduous task, making it difficult to send an image, load a web page, or even writing an email. One area that people never to stop to think about is the underlying technology being used in the Internet infrastructure to give us the high-speed and quality content people care about most – and one of the most important elements is Ethernet. 

The key ingredient – Ethernet 

One of the most important elements to the success of the internet, even from its earliest days nearly 40 years ago, is Ethernet. Bob Metcalfe, known as the Father of Ethernet, came together with peers to invent and develop the Ethernet local-area network (LAN) technology and its system of packet protocols. This allowed personal computers to efficiently share files and printers and was a major advancement for its time. However, what was missing was a technical networking standard for Ethernet – a “universal recipe for packets” that would allow for multiple vendors to build interoperable equipment and, ultimately, bring widespread Internet connectivity to the masses. 

Networking standards that matter 

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.3 Ethernet Working Group, developers of one of the IEEE 802 family of networking standards, define the Ethernet standard’s specifications. Ethernet provides all the necessary specifications to ensure that everything interoperates with each other and it, therefore, ‘disappears’ from the radar of nearly everyone as a concern. This fueled intense competition between manufacturers, that when combined with the high volumes associated with the global adoption and ubiquity of Ethernet standards, has led to lowering costs across the board, which is a critical factor in the success of the Internet. Without a common technology as the foundation of the internet, no one would have cost-effective, high-speed access to everything the Internet offers.

Ethernet and Wi-Fi

Ethernet often gets overshadowed by the end-user visibility/awareness of the wireless connection Wi-Fi offers. However, people often do not realise that the two technologies need each other to thrive.  Every Wi-Fi access point in a ceiling has a wired Ethernet cable supplying both power – through Power over Ethernet – and data sending the traffic into the networks that form the on-ramps to the Internet. As such, it might be argued that Wi-Fi is fully dependent on wired Ethernet, but the reality, however, is that they are complementary to each other, as Wi-Fi offers another connection option to the wired Ethernet-based infrastructure that accesses the Ethernet-enabled internet.   

With the IEEE 802 family of networking standards celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, it is important to look at the impact the rapid growth of the internet has made on society and how IEEE’s family of 802 networking standards, especially those first created for Ethernet, has impacted our modern world. 

Living in a hyper-connected world

Ultimately, 40 years ago, it was a nascent concept to connect computers together to communicate. Without networking standards, as well as a continual and sustained focus on supporting what the networking industry needed, it is inconceivable that people would be enjoying the experiences and conveniences that we do and that impact every aspect of our lives. The thousands of engineers who have participated in IEEE 802 have paved the way for innovation in connectivity that has changed and continually influences people’s lives in ways large and small – without them, people would not have the luxury of the hyper-connected world they live in today.

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