Imagine there’s no Ethernet

October 12th, 2012 by · 2 Comments

This article was authored by John C. Tanner, and was originally posted on

Over on Network World Asia, there’s an interesting thought exercise from Jim Duffy – supposing Ethernet had lost the LAN wars?  It’s an interesting question – not least because Ethernet has evolved way beyond its original mission as a simpler way to network your office computers and peripherals. Ethernet thrives from access links to the core, and Ethernet based services literally have global reach.

If Ethernet had not taken off as it had, and technologies like FDDI and Token Ring had survived, the networking world would be a much different place:

Token Ring in the LAN! FDDI in the metro! ATM in the WAN! Fiber Channel Over Token Ring! IBM would be what Cisco Systems is now! The cloud would not exist!

Imagine that.

Analysts weigh in:

“Standards, consistency, simplicity, scale and innovation would have suffered,” says IDC analyst Rohit Mehra. “If there was no consistency, networking would be even more complex than it is today.”

“It would be more complicated, less reliable and slower,” says Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research. “There’d be more outages, and perhaps our expectations on service levels would be lower.”

“We would have gone through a much longer period of proprietary networks,” says Jon Oltsik, principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “The goodness of IP, including the Internet, wouldn’t have happened as quickly.”

Or not. It’s always difficult to say what would have happened in an alternate universe. (If Steve Jobs had never been born, would Nokia and Symbian be kings of the smartphone hill? Would 4G be necessary? Who knows?)

And looking at the comments above, to me they highlight the strengths that made Ethernet the success it’s become. Put another way, given the advantages Ethernet had over rival technologies, and the determination of the IEEE to extend Ethernet all the way into the core, it’s hard to imagine that things could have turned out any other way. It’s like trying to imagine a world where GSM flopped and we all ended up using D-AMPS and migrated to IS-136.

As if.

Then again, it’s worth remembering all the naysayers who laughed at the very notion that Ethernet could ever achieve anything remotely approaching carrier-grade, and only a fool would trust a five-nines High Availability network with it.

Ha ha.

So I suppose the outcome could have been very different in the end, if enough CTOs had listened to the naysayers.

Thoughts? Post ‘em below.

If you haven't already, please take our Reader Survey! Just 3 questions to help us better understand who is reading Telecom Ramblings so we can serve you better!

Categories: Ethernet · Other Posts

Join the Discussion!

2 Comments So Far

  • Fast Bridge says:

    I think it will effect our life styles, modes of communication and would collapse to revert to an era where too many digital natives never knew. The blog theme is unique and perfect, great job.

  • Frank A. Coluccio says:

    Hi Rob,

    It’s always an interesting exercise when one begins assessing opportunity costs when the alternative is an unknown 🙂

    Your point concerning the early naysayers resounds very loudly within me. I vividly recall jousting on the Compuserve LAN Forum during the early- and mid- the nineties with IETF and ITU (nee CCITT) heavyweights who scoffed at even the possibility of Ethernet’s emergence as a MAN protocol, never mind one that would come to dominate the WAN.

    I enjoyed reading blog piece, btw. It recalled to me an excellent account that was published by Synoptics during the late eighties. For the unaware, Synoptics was the first vendor to produce a commercially viable hub for Ethernet over twisted pairs.

    I sumbit that right behind Metcalfe, Synoptics was the second most influential player that led to Ethernet’s present-day hegemony. There is an irony in the Synoptics story, since it was rising competitive advantage of IBM’s pervasive “cabling system”, which was primarily copper-based, and not necessarily Token Ring, itself (although one would have followed the other) that prompted Synoptics to shift its development efforts from a fiber-optic based Ethernet (hence, the “-optics”. in “Synoptics”) solution to one that employed copper pairs instead of fiber. More on this point in a later writing.

    For the moment, you may wish to read about Synoptics’ history, as skewed and tainted by folklore as it might be (although, as someone who was in the thick of the protocol- and media-type wars during the late Eighties, I found it to be quite reasonable) here:


Leave a Comment

You may Log In to post a comment, or fill in the form to post anonymously.

  • Ramblings’ Jobs

    Post a Job - Just $99/30days
  • Event Calendar