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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Ethernet: The most important technology you never hear about

Ethernet is one of those inventions that few people know about, and rarely gets discussed outside of businesses and the very geekiest of homes. If you are only vaguely familiar with it, you might know it as the square ports on the back of your broadband router. Yet Ethernet now underlies much of our global communications infrastructure, and its reach is only going to grow in the coming years.

Ethernet is a standard that defines the physical connections, and the electronic operations that allow groups of computers to communicate over cables made from either copper or optic fibre. Today your network in the office or at home almost certainly relies on Ethernet. But in the near future this reach will be drastically expanded.

Already much of the core infrastructure that drives the internet relies on Ethernet. Soon the mobile phone networks are going to be increasingly reliant on Ethernet too. It is fast becoming the universal language for digital communication, whatever form that communication may take. CCTV networks use it, music systems use it, games consoles use it, banks use it — almost every transaction we make in life will soon be sent over Ethernet.

The exact date on which Ethernet was invented is not clear, but many trace it back to a memo sent by Robert Metcalfe to his employers at Xerox PARC, the development powerhouse that also spawned many of the ideas now incorporated in the modern PC (the mouse, the graphical ‘windowed’ interface). Like many great ideas, his proposal was initially rejected. Well done that man for sticking with it.

Tom Cheesewright