Innovation as the Standard 

Since its commercialisation in the early 1980’s, Ethernet has proven to be a remarkably enduring and adaptable family of networking technologies. First conceived by Bob Metcalfe and David Boggs of Xerox PARC in 1973, its adoption was rapid, and by the early 1990s it had effectively become the go-to solution for high-speed large and wide area networking. It’s no stretch to say that it remains one of the most formative – and forward thinking - networking technologies of the Information Age.

Despite the hype that circulated at one point that Ethernet was slowly dying off with the introduction of faster wireless technologies, it is abundantly clear that the humble wired connection still has a central role to play in servicing the needs of users – consumer and corporate - increasingly reliant upon high-speed, on-demand access to effectively limitless data.

 Ethernet has thrived over the years, seeing off competitors such as IBM’s Token Ring System, due to its comparatively inexpensive and non-proprietary technology. It has also proved inherently versatile, allowing for backwards compatibility, even as higher data transfer rates over longer distances became possible. It is an exceptionally adaptable standard upon which to innovate.

 Speed isn’t everything, however. Ethernet’s limited capacity to isolate and separate multiplexed user data – exposing networks to packet sniffing, man-in-the-middle attacks and MAC DoS and address spoofing - has been a major driver towards greater wireless adoption. Nonetheless, Ethernet has remained part of many networks today.

 A key group driving its evolution is the Ethernet Alliance – a non-profit industry body that consults with the IEEE and works to expand the market for Ethernet by supporting continued standards-based development. The group regularly charts where they see the technology heading, and communicate the benefits of its continued improvement.

 Their 2016 Ethernet Roadmap introduces new Ethernet technologies such as:

  • FlexE (or FlexEthernet)
  • New connectivity interfaces such as microQSFP and OBO (On Board Optics)
  • New power and data transmission capabilities with 4-pair PoE (Power over Ethernet), and PoDL (Power over Data Line). 

These additions are sure to have an impact on the development of fourth-generation data centres and IoT-related devices, allowing for reduced power consumption, higher-port densities and new deployment scenarios.

 

New Tricks for Old Faithful

Further to the above capabilities, a host of new data transfer speeds have been tabled for standardisation.

According to Ethernet Alliance subcommittee member (and Intel engineer) David Chalupsky, the introduction of new speeds – at both the higher and lower ends - is about allowing Ethernet users to get ‘the most out of their installed systems’, regardless of the size of their networks or the requirements they serve.

Regarding this, it is expected that new and emerging speeds - 2.5Gbps, 5Gbps, 25Gbps, 50Gbps, 200Gbps, and 400Gbps - will become commonplace. This change does away with the previous focus on a single standardised speed to service all application scenarios, and aims to grant Ethernet a wider capability set intended to address specific needs and use-cases.

For the hyperscale data centres of today, as well as service providers and internet exchanges delivering metropolitan-scale connectivity, it means bigger backhaul pipes with higher throughput capacities – upwards of 400Gbps and beyond. Such developments also aim to head off an anticipated bottleneck in network storage speeds, as more and more high-speed storage and memory solutions are deployed throughout today’s enterprises.

Meanwhile, for home, enterprise and campus networks, the lower speeds beyond 1Gbps– 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps - are being implemented to maximise the increased bandwidth now available through 802.11ac access points. The emergent markets for car automation and smart homes also stand to benefit immensely from the projected improvements to the standard.

 

The Wide, Wired World  

The 2016 Ethernet Roadmap helps illustrate not just Ethernet’s extraordinary utility, but its ability to evolve in order to meet an ever-growing set of connectivity needs. You can find the 2016 Ethernet Roadmap at the Ethernet Alliance website.