The New Era of Ethernet

For more than 40 years, Ethernet has become a pervasive medium for information transmission. In his blog, Wu Jian discusses the trends driving the recent transformations of Ethernet from what we see today and into the future.

NewEthernetAfter more than 40 years in development, Ethernet has become a ubiquitous part of our lives. It has become the most common medium for our information society. It has also successfully achieved an ideal pervasive state that its creators originally expected.

If we look back at the history of Ethernet, it roughly grew by a factor of 10 − from 10 megabytes (M) to 100M, and then from 1 gigabits (G) to 10G. Today, some data centers are working at 40G and sometimes in 100G; however, in the past few years, Ethernet progressed in a diversified way.

From my perspective, the diversity of Ethernet stems from the new challenges now being faced by its ecological system. The demand from the Internet has exceeded its original conception as simply being used for LAN and WAN. Ethernet must quickly adapt itself to be applied across diverse types of networks. The demand for diversification has even penetrated into every single “pore” of the industry, including the Internet of Things (IoT). Therefore, with diversified applications and demands, Ethernet needs to be tailor-made to meet the changing needs. The most significant and important area where changes are happening is in intelligent buildings, which mainly consist of copper cables.

The development of intelligent buildings, coupled with development of WLAN (Wi-Fi) and IoT, require Ethernet to be capable of two missions: data transmission and power supply. The power supply refers to Power over Ethernet (PoE), which uses Ethernet cabling as a conduit for electrical power. The aim of PoE is to gradually unify all low-energy consumption terminals using a twisted pair copper cable, such as:

  • IP digital phone
  • Wireless access points
  • Digital cameras
  • LED lighting
  • High resolution audio/video equipment
  • Smart control systems

Trust me when I say that no one wants to set up a separate power outlet for every single terminal.

As I mentioned before, high-power PoE and high-speed wireless network connections have become the two indispensable technologies of intelligent building development. According to a recent survey from the University of North Carolina, Internet users today heavily rely on Wi-Fi. Respondents usually interact with wireless devices an average of 27 times in just one hour. Users expect faster wireless access, but few access points built into intelligent building infrastructure can reach 10G—the majority stops at 1G or lower.

Although many buildings have deployed Category 6A copper cables to support 10Gbase-T, the two commonly used Ethernet technologies today − 1000Base-T and 10GBase-T − still have a long way to go when upgrading to 10G from various systems including servers, switches and access point wireless routers and structured cabling. Therefore, 2.5G and 5G were developed to deal with the pressure put on infrastructure bandwidth by Wi-Fi.

You may have heard about an international alliance called NBASE-T with members from more than 20 major corporations from around the world. The standard of NBASE-T is IEEE 802.3bz, with the purpose to promote the development of 2.5G and 5G while allowing wireless and wired networks to be more effectively integrated, instead of having one replace the other. This means the lifespan of copper cabling has been extended by the demand for indoor wireless. If this makes sense to you, then you will not be surprised by my belief that it is the wireless needs that are contributing to the growth of advanced wired infrastructure.

If you have any questions or comments about the latest developments with Ethernet, or the application of Ethernet within intelligent buildings, please leave a note below and I will be sure to respond.