Happy birthday, Ethernet: 40 years ago, networking got a lot easier

May 22 marks the 40th anniversary of Ethernet, if you measure its birth from Robert Metcalfe's seminal 1973 memo. (Not everyone does.)

May 22 marks the 40th anniversary of Ethernet, the nearly ubiquitous local area networking technology, at least if you measure its birth from Robert Metcalfe’s seminal 1973 memo describing the scheme.

Not everyone does. David Boggs, Metcalfe’s collaborator on the networking project at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, dates Ethernet’s birth from its first functioning system, which was six months later.

Either way, Ethernet has had a long run, emerging as the dominant LAN standard while expanding its capacity, range and functionality.

“The Ethernet invented 40 years ago is quite different from the Ethernet that is running today,” said John Hawkins, the Carrier Ethernet expert at the optical networking company Ciena. And yet, there is a lot that remains unchanged. The frame format is largely the same today, Hawkins said, its ease of use and plug-and-play capability is the same, as is its ability to fit easily into multiple network niches.

The ability for any connected device on the Ethernet wire or cable to communicate with any other connected device without modifications to the devices or the network gave it an advantage over competing technologies such as Token Ring and Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI). “Ethernet won the early wars based on its simplicity and cost points,” Hawkins said. “It enjoyed a great cost advantage.”

Adopted as the IEEE 802.3 standard in 1985, it has enjoyed an economy of scale that has kept it affordable. It also has benefited from the fact that while it has advanced in speed and distance — from a top speed of 10 megabits/sec and a maximum wiring run measured in tens of meters to gigabit speeds and spans of tens of kilometers — it has remained largely backwards compatible. Older 10 megabit/sec devices will work fine on Gigabit Ethernet, just slower.

As originally described, Ethernet was a simple physical and data layer scheme to allow devices to communicate over a common wire (initially coaxial cable). Data is transmitted in variable-length frames containing a source and destination address, and each device on the network checks the destination address of each frame. If the frame is not addressed to the device, it is ignored. Each device listens to make sure its network segment is clear of traffic before transmitting, and when frames collide in a segment, the devices stop transmitting, wait a bit, and then check to see if the segment is clear again before resuming.

Ethernet networking has been extended beyond its initial limits through the use of repeaters in the physical layer (Layer 1), bridges in the data layer (Layer 2), and switches. Switches are Layer 2 devices that forward frames only to destination ports, effectively creating a dedicated segment for each networked device, reducing the competition of traffic on the segment.

Originally working over coax in the 1970s and 1980s, Ethernet today typically runs over CAT5 and CAT6 copper and fiber optic cable.

As the term “Carrier Ethernet” implies, Ethernet is expanding beyond the enterprise and into metro- and wide-area networking, and Hawkins said he expects to see the trend continue.

“There will be more capacity, more bandwidth and applications flowing over Ethernet,” he said. “Further expansion will always be on the horizon.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.