Written by IEEE | February 25, 2020 | Updated: September 26, 2022
You’re probably reading this article on your mobile phone, a tablet or a laptop computer. You might share this article to your social media channels using your favorite emoji in the caption, and then later you’ll video call with your brother-in-law to get his opinion on the topic. Did you know that none of these activities would be possible today, and that none of these technologies would be able to work together or low cost enough, without the IEEE family of 802 standards?
It wasn’t that long ago when Wi-Fi and Ethernet speeds weren’t as fast and inexpensive enough for every-day consumers. The rate of growth this industry has seen is exponential, and the thousands of engineers in IEEE’s numerous 802 working groups have made sure their technical standards have enabled constant improvements, ensuring consistency and accessibility in the market.
“IEEE 802 is one of the most effective standards activities in history,” says Bob Metcalfe, the Father of Ethernet and IEEE Computer Society member.
Let’s imagine how the world would be a different place if these standards were not in place today.
1. Remote Work Would be Non-existent
Wired and wireless connectivity enabled by Wi-Fi and Ethernet on mobile and laptop devices has changed how many companies and employees now work. Long gone are the days of exclusively working in an office to complete tasks on a desktop computer, or even a designated computer room.
“Ethernet-extended Internet packets switched beyond the computer room to desktop personal computers,” says Metcalfe. “Before Ethernet, the Internet was accessed by terminals.”
Quickly answering an email or instant message on your phone, video-calling with your boss across the country or updating your social media accounts would not be a reality without 802 standards, especially those created specifically for Interworking/Security, Ethernet and Wi-Fi like 802.1, 802.3 and 802.11.
Further to this, the broader access to connectivity has also enabled new verticals to emerge in our workforce. For example, many people around the world today are drivers for ride-sharing apps. Those drivers may not know it, but they rely on remote data centers as well as their mobile devices to identify new customers who need a ride. The massive amounts of connectivity required in data centers would not be possible if it weren’t for 802’s Ethernet and Interworking standards and the seamless integration of Wi-Fi and cellular technologies in mobile devices enabling the cost-effective, ubiquitous accessibility of the app’s remote database to consumers.
2. No More Likes on Social Media
By 2021, it’s estimated that almost 3.1 billion people will be using social media. So, it’s safe to assume that if you’re reading this article, you’ve had access to social media at one point in your life. And on social media, one of the most common forms of engagement is to “like” something whether that be a picture from your friend or an article you enjoyed reading.
But what if hitting like wasn’t possible?
Well, without the networking standards created by the engineers in IEEE’s 802 working groups, this just might be the case.
“When you hit like on Facebook, eventually that clicking of likes becomes a flurry of Ethernet packets that dissolve through the layers of software of Ethernet,” says Metcalfe. “To get that rapid response we all know so well of clicking like on our social media channels, you need the packets in the plumbing to reach higher and higher speeds of Ethernet.”
Wired and wireless have a close relationship. They rely on each other. So even though you’re hitting like on a device that’s wirelessly connected, that action eventually relies on a wired connections and many switching points in the Internet’s plumbing. So, without IEEE’s 802.1 Interworking standards, 802.3 standard for Ethernet, or its 802.11 standard for Wi-Fi, you can say goodbye to the days of liking, retweeting and sharing.
3. Device Prices Would Never be as Inexpensive as They Are Now
You might be balking at the idea that your electronic device is currently at an affordable price. But if we didn’t have 802’s family of standards, those prices would never have dropped to the level they are at now and because of that, unattainable for many consumers and established companies looking to purchase the latest and greatest technology.
“Once the retail price of Wi-Fi devices was drastically reduced, the devices designed according to the IEEE 802.11 and IEEE 802.11b standards became affordable [through competition and innovation] to the public,” explains Vic Hayes, the father of Wi-Fi. “Now the price for a client device was down to $100 from $500 in 1998 and for a price point of $300 from $1300 in 1998.”
802 standards helped keep prices down for those devices that need wireless and wired connectivity. Not only that, they established rules for manufacturers to ensure all devices were capable of interoperating no matter where on the globe they are used.
So next time you send answer an email from your boss, hit like on your favorite social media platform or go to the store to buy the latest mobile phone, think about how that action creates a flurry of information laden packets to flow nearly instantly over immense distances error free and remember how far the access to global connectivity has come over the last 40 years and how 802’s family of standards has been a key factor in its success.
The thousands of engineers participating in developing 802 networking standards have paved the way for innovation in connectivity that has changed and continually influences our lives in ways large and small. Join us in taking a look at the technology of 802 and the accomplishments in creating technical standards that allow us to enjoy the hyper-connected world we have today.