Wireless connectivity has spread so completely around the world over the last couple of decades that it’s pretty easy to overlook everything going on behind the scenes to make it all work—the wires behind the wireless. There’s a necessary synergy in the development of the wired and wireless technologies and standards, in order to achieve the plug-and-play, seamless experience that users globally have come to expect.

Innovation of IEEE 802.3™ Ethernet never stops, for example. Evolving market needs are driving bandwidth growth factors that resonate throughout the Ethernet ecosystem and necessitate constant refinement and enhancement of the widely deployed standard. Wireless applications are fueling many of today’s and tomorrow’s growth factors; their impact on the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet wired infrastructure is profound.

Accommodating and anticipating growth

Traffic demand on IEEE 802.3 Ethernet networks is growing from every perspective: more users, more ways to access the internet at faster speeds, higher-bandwidth content, new applications, etc.

Mobile traffic, of course, is going through the roof. The primary driver here is consumer video, but there are other significant drivers ramping up bandwidth demand: 5G mobile radio access networks; car-to-cloud, car-to-car and in-car automotive traffic, and industrial applications, among them.

Take 5G for instance. 

Ethernet is an attractive solution for many 5G transport application, and the market is huge. The requirements for the wired line, fiber optics infrastructure to make 5G networks possible are going to be tremendous. Where the rates that tend to be deployed to cell towers today are maybe hundreds of megabits per second to gigabit rates, rollout of 5G will necessitate rates of 25 gigabits per second (Gb/s) or greater at the towers. Interconnecting the base stations delivering those rates and multiplexing the connections together on, say, a ring network for survivability will drive requirements for 200 and 400 Gb/s speeds at the metro edge. The Ethernet industry is rapidly rolling out those capabilities in higher volume in order to support the higher speeds that 5G promises for users. 

And it’s not just heightened bandwidth demands that these wireless applications are putting on wired networks; it’s also new requirements in areas such as extremely precise timing. Again, looking at 5G, there is a stringent requirement here to communicate time-of-day and frequency information in very high accuracy all the way out to the cell tower—greater than what has been needed for 4G. For the mobile network to be able to expand the amount of bandwidth to a particular user’s cellphone, the multiple cell towers that might be in play as the user traverses coverage areas must be very tightly synced and timed. Automotive use cases—autonomous, connected, etc.—represent another crucial rising application driver in this area of precise coordination and timing requirements. 

Also, there is a big unknown out there in terms of what the real bandwidth demands in these applications are going to be with the growth of 5G—i.e., we don’t know what we don’t know yet. As the new 5G canvas is rolled out around the world, it is certain to unleash a new wave of creativity in terms of the wireless applications that can be developed to transform the ways that users around the world live, work and play. Success breeds success breeds bandwidth. And more wireless bandwidth means more innovation in the enabling wired Ethernet infrastructure.

Venues for engagement and innovation

The IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group undertakes a variety of efforts that work together to keep these wired technologies moving forward without sacrificing the technology’s hallmarks of dependable, seamless, plug-and-play interoperability and ease of use.

There are standards-development projects underway, such as IEEE P802.3cn™, IEEE Draft Standard for Ethernet Amendment: Physical Layers and Management Parameters for 50 Gb/s, 200 Gb/s, and 400 Gb/s Operation over Single-Mode Fiber, and IEEE P802.3ct™, IEEE Draft Standard for Ethernet, Amendment: Physical Layers and Management Parameters for 100 Gb/s and 400 Gb/s Operation over DWDM (dense wavelength division multiplexing) systems. These standards are designed to pave the way for optical networking solutions of greater than 10 km that are needed to deliver mobile backhaul fueled by consumer video, distribution networks for cable and multiple system operators (MSOs), interconnection of distributed data centers, etc.

There are activities that are designed to galvanize the diverse Ethernet ecosystem into meaningful, market-driven action. For example, the Improving PTP Timestamping Accuracy on Ethernet Interfaces Study Group is working to assess the potential markets requirements and feasibility of amending the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet standard to define optional enhancements to Ethernet support for synchronization protocols and improve timestamp accuracy for the latest telecom system requirements. Such work is crucial to ensuring that mobile radio access networks interoperate properly, meet performance goals and do not suffer from incompatible implementations in the rollout of 5G.

Furthermore, the IEEE 802.3 community regularly sources information from the industry regarding the bandwidth demands it is seeing in the field and what might be forthcoming in different segments. An Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment has been underway, which is important relative to understanding the future needs that the industry will place upon Ethernet. Analysis is taking place on data contributed from a variety of industry contributions and sources. The bandwidth assessment is looking at bandwidth demand in relation to application spaces and market timing, with the goal of creating a forecast out to 2025.

Even with the variety of activities such as these, in a technology space that is exploding in the way that Ethernet is, there are bound to be groups with specific wired needs that are not yet being addressed. These individuals from underserved areas are encouraged to get involved in the IEEE 802.3 community through the New Ethernet Applications Ad Hoc. The goal of this activity is to assess requirements for new Ethernet-based applications, identify gaps not currently addressed by IEEE 802.3 standards and facilitate building industry consensus toward proposals to initiate new standards-development efforts.

The IEEE 802.3 Ethernet community is committed to ensuring that the wired infrastructure behind wireless applications is always ready to support whatever innovation the world has in store for it.

John D’Ambrosia chairs the IEEE P802.3cn and IEEE P802.3ct task forces and New Ethernet Applications Ad Hoc. Steve Gorshe chairs the Improving PTP Timestamping Accuracy on Ethernet Interfaces Study Group. 

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