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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 May, 2003, 06:49 GMT 07:49 UK
Thirty years of 'talking' computers
Original Ethernet diagram, 3Com
The original diagram laying out ethernet's basic form
Some of the computer technology that lets you read this story is 30 years old this weekend.

In 1973 data was passed over a computer networking technology known as ethernet for the first time.

The feat was accomplished by Bob Metcalfe and David Boggs who at the time were researchers at the legendary Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

Three decades on and ethernet is used to connect millions of computers together and to link those machines to the internet.

Ether flyer

Bob Metcalfe began working on ways to swap data between computers after reading about work carried out by Norman Abramson at the University of Hawaii.

Abramson had created a radio data network, that he dubbed AlohaNet, that split data into small chunks called packets.

Hawaiian surfer, AP
Bob Metcalfe drew on work done in Hawaii
AlohaNet let any computer on the network transmit data at any time. As a result it was very inefficient and used less than 20% of its potential bandwidth.

Packets of data that collided because they were transmitted at the same time were discarded.

To distinguish it from the Aloha system Mr Metcalfe dubbed it "ethernet". The name draws on old ideas about a supposedly ubiquitous, invisible medium that helped light propagate.

By improving the way that a computer network handled collisions, Mr Metcalfe believed he could vastly improve the speed with which data was passed around.

Research work by Mr Metcalfe and his co-worker established that they could swap far more data far faster than over the Hawaiian network.

Three years after sending those first packets of data, the network created by Metcalfe and Boggs had 100 machines on it.

The network ran at a stately speed of 2.94 megabits.

Mr Metcalfe founded a company called 3Com to start making and selling components that allowed others to create ethernet networks.

When it first appeared ethernet shuffled data between machines at 10megabits per second.

Since then the technology has been improved several times and now can work at gigabit speeds.




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