Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Ethernet Inventor Sees No Limits To The Technology

When Bob Metcalfe was working at Xerox Corp. in 1970, he was given the task of developing a way to network computers using a standard interface. He invented what's now known as Ethernet, the technology employed by just about every data network in use today.

"Way back when, Xerox scientists built their own tools," Metcalfe recalls. "We were about to put a computer on every desk and needed a way to interconnect them. I was fortunate to be the networking guy given the job."

Ethernet started out slow, but continues to gain speed. At first it ran at 2.94 Mbps, because the clock on the back plane of an Altos computer ran at that speed. Today, Ethernet can run at 10 Gbps, and Metcalfe sees no reason why it can't run at much faster speeds in the future. "The next stop will be 40 Gbps or 100 Gbps," Metcalfe says. "Phone companies like to increase their speeds by a factor of four for every new generation, while data folks like to increase speeds by a factor of 10. It's not clear who will win out."

Metcalfe notes that as more telecom companies offer Ethernet services, Ethernet is becoming a carrier standard and not just a LAN standard. "That means we may have to stop at 40 Gbps on the way to 100 Gbps," he says.

The widespread use of Ethernet is a key reason Metcalfe was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Bush at a White House ceremony Monday. It wasn't something that he expected to result from his invention many years ago. "I am willing to admit that I had no idea that Ethernet would get as big as it has," he says. Last year, 200 million Ethernet ports were shipped.

  • 1