Ethernet — the fundamental backbone of networking worldwide — celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. This milestone, accomplished via a never-ending evolution of the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet specification, enabled the development and deployment of technology that rose to meet the challenge of ever-changing market demands.
This market-driven development has fueled the Ethernet standard’s indisputable market success and far-reaching societal benefit. Ethernet, like the IEEE 802 suite of standards, was created within a rigorous process, rooted in consensus, due process, openness, right of appeal, and balance. Thousands of people — sometimes from well-established companies and startups and, oftentimes, competitors with one another — have contributed to the development of Ethernet and the complete IEEE 802 suite of standards.
Anticipating and Adapting for New Wireless Needs
While the users who have plugged into Ethernet over the last 40 years have many tales to tell, those who have unplugged from it — or rather attached wirelessly — have equally exciting stories.
It is no secret that more people around the world are consuming and generating increasingly larger amounts and more diverse types of data. Take for example the trend toward watching and uploading video content. At the same time, users are demanding that communication services provide mobility. This has led to the need for increasingly faster and more robust wireless local area networks (WLANs) and cellular-backhaul solutions that could provide the needed services to mobile devices. While the vast resources of the Internet infrastructure move data invisibly, an ever-growing portion of that data originates from or terminates on mobile devices, including smartphones, laptops, and pads.
IEEE 802.11 standards underpin wireless networking applications around the world, such as wireless access to the Internet from offices, homes, airports, hotels, restaurants, trains, and aircraft. IEEE 802.11’s relevance continues to expand with the emergence of new applications, such as the smart grid, wireless docking and the “Internet of Things.” The various study and working groups who are innovating the IEEE 802.11 standards family are considering forward-looking use cases in order to anticipate and build for future WLANs.
New, enhanced usage scenarios and applications that are on the table for WLANs include:
- Wireless docking, unified communications, display sharing and cloud computing for enterprise users.
- Seamless handover between cellular and Wi-Fi networks and community Wi-Fi deployment for operators.
- Video distribution at home, progressive streaming, user-generated content (UGC) upload and sharing, interactive multimedia and gaming, real-time video analytics and augmented reality, and support for wearable devices for consumers.
- Autonomous, low-power discovery for device-to-device applications.
- Shopping-mall applications such as Internet access for shoppers, “push” couponing, cellular offload and multicast.
- “e-education” video streaming, file and desktop sharing and multicasting.
- Building automation and connectivity, security, heating and cooling control and balancing, utilities monitoring, waste-management systems and video streaming in dense apartment and condominium buildings.
- Seamless connectivity for public transportation.
Each application space has its own unique set of challenges and issues. For example, a special consideration for an enterprise wireless-docking application could be a physical environment in which cubicles are densely spaced in close proximity with one another and all share the same access point; whereas, a greater challenge for a consumer progressive-streaming application might be to flexibly adapt to varying radio conditions.
And while IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi traditionally has been more of a nomadic service, greater mobility is needed — especially for real-time services. Finally, ease of use must be enhanced, in that a QoE guarantee must be enforceable across simultaneous services of a device, enhanced peer-to-peer capabilities and better interworking with cellular systems.
In addition, though IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi has always provided un-plugged services, there is also an opportunity to reduce the network connection time and network roaming services to provide better ease of use, enhanced peer-to-peer capabilities and better interworking with cellular systems.
Finally, the use cases also illuminate that the prime frontiers for IEEE 802.11 standards will shift from improving the peak per-user data rate to increasing the maximum aggregated system throughput—especially in dense user scenarios such as conferences, train stations and stadiums. This increase in the maximum aggregated system throughput will have repercussions to the wired network that empowers the wireless network that users are using as their method of connection to the Internet.
Evolving and Expanding Wireline Infrastructures
This ever-increasing growth in network bandwidth demand has been a continuous source of market demand that has driven the ongoing evolution and innovation in the IEEE 802.3 “Standard for Ethernet” family of wireline standards.
When the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet working group put together the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment Ad Hoc group to help study emerging bandwidth requirements among users so to inform future development of Ethernet wireline standards, wireless growth emerged as a primary concern.
“Mobile data will experience a 92 % CAGR (compound annual growth rate) between 2010 and 2015, but still only account for 7.77 % of the overall traffic in 2015,” read the 2012 “IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment” report, which is publicly available at http://www.ieee802.org/3/ad_hoc/bwa/BWA_Report.pdf. “Fixed/Wired will experience a 24 % CAGR during the same period, and account for 46.1 % of the overall traffic in 2015. Finally, Fixed/Wi-Fi will experience a 39 % CAGR over this period, and account for 46.2 % of all traffic.”
From that report eventually grew the launch earlier this year of an IEEE 802.3 study group to explore development of a 400 Gb/s Ethernet standard to efficiently support exponential wireline network bandwidth growth. The IEEE 802.3 400 Gb/s Ethernet Study Group is providing an opportunity for experts from across application spaces and geographic regions worldwide to collaborate on a proposal for development of a 400 Gb/s Ethernet standard, galvanizing the Ethernet ecosystem around next steps and accelerating potential future standards-development activities.
While the debate between wireless and wired networks has been ongoing for years, in essence this debate truly misses the point that we live in a networked world, where these networking technologies offer different capabilities and advantages over each for different scenarios. Thus, the IEEE 802 suite of standards, which are logically-connected members that define and provide total end-to-end and synergistic networking solutions, will continue to support the emergence of an increasingly networked world.
John D’Ambrosia is chair of the IEEE 802.3 400 Gb/s Ethernet Study Group and chief Ethernet evangelist, CTO office, with Dell. Bruce Kraemer is chair of the IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN Working Group and senior manager strategic marketing with Marvell Semiconductor.