2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the technology that gave us computer networks and now helps connect us all—ethernet.
Several technology groups are marking the occasion. For example, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., held its Ethernet@50 event in May 2023, which included in-person and online components exploring the creation of the protocol and its development into an industry that connects people worldwide.
Ethernet was invented in 1973 by Robert Metcalfe and David Boggs at Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto Research Center, based on a memo Metcalfe released on May 22, 1973, about the idea. The idea turned into the “Alto Aloha Network,” which established the basis for ethernet. Metcalfe named the technology after the “luminiferous aether” that was once believed to exist as an omnipresent, passive medium for electromagnetic waves to propagate. Ethernet became commercially available in 1980, and three years later, it was standardized through IEEE 802.3.
Although originally designed for connecting computers over short distances with a speed of just 2.94 megabits per second, ethernet continues to adapt to ever-changing technology and connectivity needs. It can now support higher gigabit-level bandwidths while retaining backwards compatibility with older systems and has largely replaced other wired LAN technologies. Its capabilities have also expanded with advances such as power over ethernet, single-pair ethernet, cloud computing and more, and it has even been deployed in locations as far-flung as the deep sea and the International Space Station.
“That Ethernet remains the gold standard for effortless connectivity a half-century after its inception is a testament to both the simple brilliance of its design and the open, global community that has coalesced around it,” said Peter Jones, distinguished engineer at Cicso, San Jose, Calif., and chair of the Ethernet Alliance, in a press release about the anniversary.
As for the future? Groups such as the Ethernet Alliance and IEEE predict a number of upcoming expansions for ethernet, including bandwidths in the hundreds of gigabits or even terabits and better integration between IT and industrial/operational networks.