Milestones:Ethernet Local Area Network (LAN), 1973-1985

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Title

Ethernet Local Area Network (LAN), 1973-1985

Citation

Ethernet wired LAN was invented at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1973, inspired by the ALOHAnet packet radio network and the ARPANET. In 1980, Xerox, DEC, and Intel published a specification for 10 Mbps Ethernet over coaxial cable that became the IEEE 802.3-1985 Standard. Later augmented for higher speeds, and twisted-pair, optical, and wireless media, Ethernet became ubiquitous in home, commercial, industrial, and academic settings worldwide.<br> <br> <i>Please note that "802.3-1985 IEEE Standard" as included in the above citation is officially known as "ANSI/IEEE Std 802.3-1985.</i>"

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the Milestone Plaque Sites

3333 Coyote Hill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304 Latitude: 37.4027346 Longitude: -122.1486011, 3333 Coyote Hill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304 Latitude: 37.4027346 Longitude: -122.1486011

Details of the physical location of the plaque

The plaque will be mounted in the PARC facility lobby near the Alto that is on display, and by Milestone plaques for the Alto and the Laser Printer.

How the intended plaque site is protected/secured

Security protected lobby, open to public daily 8am-4:30pm, 650.812.4000

Historical significance of the work

Until around 1970, the mass market need for data communication was primarily long reach, <i>i.e.</i>, not just within a building. There were several efforts to develop wide area networks (WANs) to connect large computers to each other over a distance, including the ARPANET and the UK's NPL Mark I network.<br> <br> During the late 1960s and 1970s, the availability of increasingly complex and inexpensive integrated circuits led to the proliferation of affordable minicomputers and personal smaller computers intended for operation by individual users. This created a need for a Local Area Network (LAN) to enable communication between these computers in a building or site-wide campus, and at higher speeds than could be achieved with modems over voice-grade circuits.<br> <br> In particular, the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), founded in 1970, needed a high-speed interconnect for its newly-developed Alto personal computers to enable sharing of data, and access to centralized resources of laser printers, file servers, and an ARPANET gateway. By 1981, Xerox had installed 75 Ethernets at 40 sites in the USA and UK, serving over 1350 Altos, the sites interconnected via gateways and T1 and voice-grade circuits. <b>[Ref10: Hitzik]</b> By 1985, an estimated 500,000 Ethernet adapters had been installed worldwide, corresponding to about 100,000 Ethernets. <b>[Ref11: Pelkey, p. 486]</b> Within two decades, Ethernet became the dominant worldwide standard for wired local communication for computers and computing devices. <b>[Ref9: Burg]</b>

Features that set this work apart from similar achievements

Since its approval in 1983 and publication in 1985, IEEE Standard Ethernet has expanded features, media, and speeds to adapt to the broad market needs for locally-wired computer communications. Always at the forefront was both simplicity and interoperability: <i>each step forward in the evolution of the Ethernet standard was formulated to be backward compatible with previous versions at the client interface</i>. The use of thin coaxial media (10BASE2) lowered installation costs. Twisted-pair media (10BASE-T), in conjunction with the multi-port repeater, allowed installations to use existing surplus telephone cabling, which had often become the property of building owners after AT&T's deregulation in 1982. This reduced installation costs even more significantly, and improved both reliability and maintainability.<br> <br> IEEE 802.4 never really gained volume market traction because of high cost and poor performance. IEEE 802.3's adoption of the hub and spoke architecture using IEEE 802.1 multiport switches, and the addition of automatic speed negotiation, full duplex, and higher speeds, as well as lower prices that resulted from vendor competition, let Ethernet win in the marketplace over IEEE 802.5 Token Ring. The addition of Power over Ethernet (PoE) has aided using Ethernet for connecting to IP telephones and Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11) wireless access points. An October 2019 story for the IEEE Computer Society's <i>COMPUTER</i> magazine describes the history of Ethernet, and the impact of the IEEE 802.3 Standard. <b>[Ref7: IEEE Computer 2019]</b>.<br> <br> Ethernet standardizes the lower-level (data link layer) protocol. As it is agnostic with respect to higher-level packet transport-level protocols such as TCP/IP, XNS, DECNET, and the OSI protocol suites, Ethernet was unaffected by the protocol "wars" that took place in the early 1980s. The continued importance of this approach can be seen as Ethernet/IEEE 802.3 expanded into the wireless space via the Wi-Fi standard, and it is increasingly chosen as the underlying wired transport for metropolitan area networks, as well as automotive and industrial automation applications. Since the time of its initial publication in 1985, and with the JTC1's adoption of all amendments and all revisions starting in 1990, IEEE 802.3 has come to be recognized by the industry as one of the IEEE’s most successful standards.

Significant references

<br><b>References:</b><br> • <b>Ref1: Metcalfe's 1973 Ethernet Memo (Xerox PARC)</b>: https://ieeemilestones.ethw.org/w/images/a/af/Ref1_PARC_Ethernet_Memo_1973.pdf<br> • <b>Ref2: <i>How Ethernet Was Invented</i></b>, R. Metcalfe: https://ieeemilestones.ethw.org/w/images/6/6e/Ref2_IEEE_Annals_1994.pdf (IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 1994)<br> • <b>Ref3: US Patent No. 4,063,220</b>: https://ieeemilestones.ethw.org/w/images/d/da/Ref3_US_Patent_No_4063220.pdf<br> • <b>Ref4: <i>Ethernet: Distributed Packet Switching for Local Computer Networks</i></b>, R. Metcalfe and D. Boggs (Communications of the ACM, 1976)<br> • <b>Ref5: DIX Ethernet V1.0 1980 (The Ethernet 1.0 "Blue Book")</b>: https://ieeemilestones.ethw.org/w/images/3/31/Ref5_DIX_Ethernet_V1.0_1980.pdf<br> • <b>Ref6: IEEE 802.3-1985 Spec</b>: https://ieeemilestones.ethw.org/w/images/6/66/Ref6_IEEE_802.3_1985.pdf<br> • <b>Ref7: <i>Ethernet: From Office to Data Center to IoT</i></b>, Geoff Thompson, (IEEE Computer, 2019)</b><br> • <b>Ref8: <i>ALOHAnet, 1971</i> IEEE Milestone</b>: https://ethw.org/Milestones:ALOHAnet,_1971<br> • <b>Ref9: Burg</b>: Urs von Burg, <i>The Triumph of Ethernet: Technological Communities and the Battle for the LAN Standard</i>, Stanford University Press, 2002: https://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=1310<br> • <b>Ref10: Hitzik</b>: Michael A. Hiltzik, <i>Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age</i>, HarperCollins, 2000: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/dealers-of-lightning-michael-a-hiltzik<br> • <b>Ref11: Pelkey</b>: James L. Pelkey & Andrew L. Russell, <i>Circuits, Packets, and Protocols: Entrepreneurs and Computer Communications, 1968–1988</i>, ACM Books, 2022: https://dl.acm.org/doi/book/10.1145/3502372<br> • <b>IEEE History Center Oral History of Robert Metcalfe</b>, conducted by Robert Colburn on 19 Feb. 2004: https://ethw.org/Oral-History:Robert_Metcalfe<br> • <b>Computer History Museum Oral History of Robert Metcalfe</b>, conducted by Len Shustek on 29 Nov. 2006 and 31 Jan. 2007: https://www.computerhistory.org/collections/catalog/102657992 (Video, pt. 1), https://www.computerhistory.org/collections/catalog/102738773 (Video, pt. 2), https://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/access/text/2013/05/102657995-05-01-acc.pdf (Full Transcript)<br> • <b>Ethernet Timeline: 1973-2013</b>, created for 2013 Ethernet Technology Summit, Santa Clara, CA USA: https://ieeemilestones.ethw.org/w/images/3/34/ETS13_Ethernet-Timeline.pdf

Supporting materials

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