The National Inventors Hall of Fame has inducted Bob Metcalfe, the alleged inventor of Ethernet. This perpetuates a myth that Metcalfe has been stoking for 30 years, and it’s wrong. While it’s certainly true that Metcalfe was one of the people at Xerox PARC to co-invent a network called Ethernet in 1973, that network has very, very little to do with the network we call “Ethernet” today.
Metcalfe’s Ethernet was a coaxial cable shared by a number of computers, each of which connected to it through a little radio-like thing called a transceiver through a bundle of wires as thick as a pencil.
The network we call Ethernet today is a box of digital electronics called a switch or a hub that the computer connects to through two pairs of twisted copper wires. On the modern switched Ethernet several computers can communicate at the same time, but on Metcalfe’s system one and only one could transmit at a time.
You can only credit Metcalfe with inventing Ethernet if you expand the meaning of the term “Ethernet” to include all local area networks invented after 1973 and ignore the older ones, like AlohaNet. Metcalfe seems to be encouraging that sort of thing, as he’s recently described the Cable Internet protocol, DOCSIS, as an Ethernet:
â€œDOCSIS is Ethernet,â€ he claimed. â€œItâ€™s HFC [hybrid fiber-coaxial] Ethernet.â€
Bob Metcalfe invented the name “Ethernet”, but he didn’t invent the modern technology that goes by it.
Can we finally get this straight? The guys who had the most to do with creating the network now known as Ethernet are Tim Rock of AT&T Information Systems and Bob Galin of Intel. They were members of an IEEE 802.3 task force on low cost networking formed in 1984 that produced the 1BASE5 standard. The network they invented, once called StarLAN, evolved into 10BASET and was then renamed Ethernet. And I know all of that because I was the vice-chair of that committee. So let’s give credit where it’s due.
Bob Metcalfe is a clever guy with a talent for public relations, but he’s not the father of modern local area networking.