Ethernet Switch Evolution

It began with the invention of the Ethernet and the Ethernet hub. A hub is a connection between devices that is used in order to create a network. An Ethernet hub connects these devices to the internet. The problem with hubs is that they cannot distinguish the different devices that are connected to it. Therefore, information is sent to every device that is on it, whether it is intended for that computer or printer or not.


Robert Metcalfe created both the Ethernet and the Ethernet hub in the 1970s at the behest of his employer at the time, Xerox.  At that time, their speed was 10 megabits per second. It did not take long for that speed to be increased to 100 Mb/s and today those speeds can reach upwards of 1000 Mb/s. Today, less than 40 years later, the speed has jumped to over a million bits per second.

In addition, the Ethernet switch was also introduced. This allowed not only for faster speeds, but also for the ability to differentiate between the various devices connected to it. These networking switches allow for speeds of anywhere from 10GbE to 40GbE. This is on top of the capability to send information to only the computer, printer, or other machinery it was intended for without tying up bandwidth by sending it to every console attached to it.

Initially, there were two different types of switches. They were unmanaged and managed. Unmanaged switches are primarily used in home networks. They are plug-and-play devices that require little in the way of setting up. Managed devices are more complex and require professional setup. However, they also allow for greater control. Additionally, a third option was introduced that falls in the middle of the two. Known as the smart switch, it allows for some control along with an easy to understand set up. It is mostly used in small businesses.

Another advancement in Ethernet and Ethernet switches was the advent of industrial Ethernet switches.  While initially designed for the manufacturing set, they help to create infrastructures that provide improved bandwidth, resiliency, and network security. In addition, they also hold up during adverse conditions.

One of the most important features of industrial switches is their capability of performing precise time synchronization throughout the network. While time references and timestamps are widely used in communications and message exchange, it is even more important when it comes to process automation, a protocol where the fraction of a second precision averts disaster. Furthermore, power electronics require even more precise timing with sub-microsecond level synchronization to operate.

However, the manufacturing field has been reluctant to change due to costs and installation. Not only can they be expensive, it is difficult to hard wire a building. In addition, these companies are hesitant to go wireless due to security concerns and determinism being a factor. However, as systems age and new and upgraded switches are required, an uptick in this sector should occur, keeping in mind that buyers are interested in both features and hardware performance.