In Pictures: 20 milestones in Ethernet's first 40 years

Reviewing the highlights of Ethernet's first four decades

  • This is one of many diagrams sketched by Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe proposing in 1972 a network connecting computers, printers and files over coaxial cable. On May 22, 1973, Metcalfe outlined the Ether Network connectivity scheme

  • In 1976, Metcalfe and David Boggs publish paper entitled: "Ethernet: Distributed Packet-Switching for Local Computer Networks." The paper describes multipoint data communication system with collision detection.

  • Xerox implemented 10Mbps Ethernet on coaxial cable, a development known as X-Wire, in 1978. Here, the world's first Ethernet cable sits unassumingly in a room full of printers and copiers at Xerox's PARC subsidiary in Palo Alto.

  • One of the first applications for Ethernet was to connect Alto computers together. And this is just the board to do it! This early Ethernet board made the Alto at Xerox PARC the first networked personal computer.

  • Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe founded 3Com in 1979 to commercialize Ethernet products, which helped establish the technology as a dominant standard.

  • ntel was one of the originators of the X-Wire Ethernet standard in 1980, along with Xerox and Digital Equipment Corp. The "DIX" specification -- for Digital, Intel and Xerox -- varied slightly from the IEEE 802.3 definition of Ethernet, which was formally approved in 1983.

  • Intel introduced the first Ethernet adapter in 1981.

  • 10BASE5 "thicknet" Ethernet connectivity gear from the 1980s. Thicknet was eventually supplanted by 10BASE2 "thinnet" cabling.

  • Ethernet over unshielded twisted pair cabling -- the kind used on telephone networks in office buildings -- got a boost with the founding of SynOptics in 1985. The company's LattisNet hub, which debuted in 1987, offered a product line to run Ethernet over the existing copper cabling plant in buildings, replacing coaxial cable as the technology medium. LattisNet helped usher in the 1991 10BASE-T standard for running Ethernet over voice-grade copper.

  • Fast Ethernet -- 100Mbps Ethernet -- products began to appear in the early 1990s. The IEEE 802.3u standard for 100BASE-T was ratified in 1995.

  • Share-media hubs were replaced by Ethernet switches like this 100Mbps Fast Ethernet switch from Intel. Kalpana, a company acquired by Cisco in the 1990s, is credited with ushering in Ethernet switching.

  • IEEE finalized 10BASE-F standard, for Ethernet over fiber, in 1994.

  • Gigabit Ethernet -- 1000Mbps Ethernet, or 1Gbps -- soon followed Fast Ethernet. The standard for running Ethernet at 1G over fiber was firmed up in 1998, and the 1000BASE-T standard for copper was finalized in 1999. But this was after startups started showing up for dinner in 1996.

  • Not long after people started using Gigabit Ethernet switches, talk of 10G Ethernet started up. We first detected it around 2000. The IEEE hammered out the 802.3ae standard in 2002.

  • The Metro Ethernet Forum, an organization devoted to defining and promoting Ethernet carrier network services, was formed in 2001.

  • Standards to ruggedize Ethernet for data centers took off in 2008. The IEEE worked on Data Center Bridging and Shortest Path First lossless forwarding techniques, while the IETF defined TRILL for multiple active paths, and ANSI worked on FibreChannel-over-Ethernet for LAN/storage convergence.

  • Only four years after 10G, the IEEE formed a study group to investigate another order of magnitude leap in Ethernet speed, this time to 100G. But disagreement about speeds complicated the process of developing a standard. Server vendors said they wouldn't need 100G adapters until years later so they demanded a 40G Ethernet standard. In any event, a joint 40/100G 802.3ab Ethernet standard was ratified in 2010.

  • Industrial Ethernet played a key role in saving 33 trapped Chilean miners in 2010. A small (3-by-5-inch) industrial Ethernet unmanaged switch with a small camera was mounted inside a rescue capsule to allow inspection of the rock structures in the tunnel prior to human transport.

  • Three years after ratifying 100G, the IEEE began a study group for 400G. Citing a "tsunami" of bandwidth demand from mobile devices and social networking, the standards group says it hopes to have a new high-speed Ethernet standard in 2017.

  • Beyond 400G? With Ethernet speeds increasing by an order of magnitude every 10 or so years, we could see Terabit Ethernet in 2020 and Petabit Ethernet in 2050.

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