Ethernet

“Do you have an extra ethernet cable?” You’ve heard this asked a time or twenty, so I’m sure you know what an ethernet cable looks like and what it’s used for—LAN connectivity, right? The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)—the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity—defines Ethernet a little differently. Their definition? Ethernet is protocol 802.3. Have you ever heard somebody ask, “Do you have a spare 802.3?”

In our homes, Ethernet competes with WiFi. Both have their merits, of course. WiFi is very convenient and is less expensive and easier to manage, especially if you’re setting up large LANs. However, ethernet cables aren’t as portable as, well, air. However, because home routers have Ethernet ports, plugging in an Ethernet cable is as simple as plugging in your blender. Also, Ethernet does provide more security than WiFi and is easier to control—after all, you can better control who is connected.

But where does the name Ethernet come from? Well, as is often the case in technology, nomenclature almost always can be traced back to a person. A single individual with a dream and wearing a tie with a short sleeve shirt.

In the case of Ethernet, its origins come from the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. In the early 70’s, engineer Bob Metcalfe created a system for connecting computer workstations. He named it Ethernet in an internal memo he’d written. He arrived at the name, at least the “ether” part, to describe his creation, which reminded him of luminiferous, or light-bearing, ether, which was believed to disseminate electromagnetic waves through space.

Next time you need an ethernet cable, ask for a Metcalfe instead. It might be fun to see what you get.