If you’re reading this article, you’re probably familiar with Ethernet technology. First developed in the early 1970s, Ethernet technology precedes the internet; even since the proliferation and widespread adoption of wireless technologies, the Ethernet family remains the standard for wired networking.
One way that many computer scientists think about and compare networks is based on their scale. While many people in the world today interact on some level with Internet or local networks each day, the scope and scale of these connections widely differs. The technology and infrastructure required for a single home computer or device connecting to the internet is often very different from that required for an office or workplace – which is, in turn, extremely different from the kind of networking a major public university or a company with multiple office branches might need.
A local area network, or LAN, is a network which encompasses a highly limited area, like a single building. Most home networks, for example, can be described as local area networks. A metropolitan area network, on the other hand, is a network which encompasses a city or even an entire metropolitan area.
In the late years of the last decade, governments, internet providers, and individual companies began to build and fund metropolitan area networks rooted in Ethernet technology. This strategy, known for short as “metro Ethernet,” is one of the most exciting and promising innovations in wide-scale connectivity. Despite its age, the Ethernet family of wired networking technologies is among the most reliable and high-quality standards available.
This constitutes perhaps the primary advantage of systems based in metro Ethernet technology: the reliability, familiarity, and continued adaptability of Ethernet technology. Despite the fact that the technology is over forty years old – about as old as any standard currently existing in computing technology – it remains the industry standard. The Ethernet standard has proved remarkably capable at adapting to our changing data transfer needs. According to Wikipedia, Ethernet technology was originally developed with transfer speeds of 2.94 megabits per second. This has been increased “to the latest 100 gigabits per second (Gbit/s), with 400 Gbit/s expected by late 2017.” The Ethernet standard accommodates innovations in wiring technology: older Ethernet cables used coaxial cable wiring, while newer Ethernet cables have been able to integrate technologies like fiber optics.
Many internet providers and other organizations feel that the future of networking technology may rest in the possibility of connecting people with larger, preexisting networks. This is the premise of projects such as Google Fiber, and it’s the premise of metro Ethernet technology. Many internet service providers are able to offer cheaper and more reliable service by connecting individual users to a broader metro Ethernet network, and, using the same technology, are able to securely and directly connect individual branches of a company or organization.
In conclusion, metro Ethernet is one of the most useful and promising ways we have of bringing cities and regions together through computer networking. Whether by cheaply connecting homes to the Internet, or by connecting multiple offices, branches of the same company, or even different companies to one another, metro Ethernet connections are both extremely advanced and elegantly simple, and the list of metro areas getting involved is growing by the day.
Featured image by Antonio Tajuelo, Flickr CC