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Ethernet’s Lessons

May 23rd, 2003 · No Comments

Economist celebrates the 30th anniversary of Ethernet. It began life at 3 Mbps and now is touching speeds of 100 Gbps. What can we learn from Ethernet’s ubiquitous success?

The first reason is simplicity. Ethernet never presupposed what sort of medium the data would travel over, be it coaxial cable or radio waves (hence the term ether to describe some undefined path). That made it flexible, able to incorporate improvements without challenging its fundamental design.

Second, it rapidly became an open standard at a time when most data-networking protocols were proprietary. That openness has made for a better business model. It enabled a horde of engineers from around the world to improve the technology as they competed to build inter-operable products.

Third, Ethernet is based on decentralisation. It lets smart end-devices, such as PCs, do the work of plucking the data out of the ether, rather than relying on a central unit to control the way those data are routed. In this way, Ethernet evolved in tandem with improvements in computing powera factor that was largely overlooked by both critics and proponents when Ethernet was being pooh-poohed in the 1980s and early 1990s.

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