October 26, 2020   |   Updated: November 11, 2020

As communities around the globe began working, learning and communicating from home earlier this year to ensure safety and help curb COVID-19 spread, Internet use rose significantly. Relying so extensively on the Internet for work, remote learning, social communications and daily tasks highlighted why it’s important for the Internet to be accessible, reliable and easy to use for all global citizens.

“Accessibility to the Internet has never been more critical than in today’s COVID-19 world,” says IEEE Senior Member and IEEE 802 Executive Committee Member John D’Ambrosia. “People use the Internet to work remotely, connect with their loved ones, purchase what they need to survive and maintain some sort of normalcy. Companies are using the Internet to continue their businesses – meeting virtually between their team members as well as with their customers.”

“Given the fact that interaction between people is fundamental to one’s personal and professional life, we want the Internet to be accessible to all in order to not only deal with the realities of today’s world, but to be able to take advantage of all of the benefits that come with the flexibility of virtual interaction,” adds IEEE Fellow and Chair of IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee Paul Nikolich.

How Standards Keep the Internet Accessible

IEEE’s family of 802 networking standards has paved the way for today’s global innovation and connectivity — but the foundation of this work started back in 1980. The IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee realized that competing technologies would inhibit growth in the computer and networking industry if there were not standards put into place to enable growth of these technologies. Their goal was to ensure that no matter who is producing the product, it would inter-operate and be more accessible for consumers.

“One must realize that there are a multitude of technical networking standards in today’s world,” says D’Ambrosia. “While it is true that there are standards and regulatory powers that will protect Internet access, there are also other standards that have enabled the development of multi-vendor inter-operable components, systems and networks. This environment enabled competition to kick-in and drive networking costs down, so that there were solutions inexpensive enough to go virtually anywhere.”

IEEE 802 has devoted the last 40 years to producing high quality, market-relevant technical networking standards that promote competition, innovation and market development to ensure that this industry remains more accessible. Essentially, if we lived in a world without standards, our fast and reliable Wi-Fi or advanced and intuitive devices would not be as affordable as they are today.

“For example, consider the explosion of IEEE 802.11 wireless networking solutions in today’s world,” says Nikolich. “Many of these wireless access points are networked together by an Ethernet copper infrastructure, which then are used in combination with IEEE 802.1 bridging standards. Some estimates say 98 percent of the networking traffic in the world flows through equipment based on the IEEE 802 LAN/MAN family of standards.”

What is the Future of Remote Learning?

The education industry faced large difficulty this year ensuring that all students had the resources they needed to effectively learn remotely. IEEE experts are hopeful that as we continue to adapt to remote learning, the technologies they have helped standardize will help us through this difficult time.

“Ultimately, it will be the ability of our youth to adapt to learning in this new manner,” says D’Ambrosia. “As a remote worker for nearly 20 years, I have seen that some of my peers are able to adapt to working remotely, where for others it has been too great a challenge. I would not be surprised to see the same sort of dichotomy evolve with remote learning, but do not dismiss the adaptability of youth.”

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