The Ethernet Alliance - 802 dot why?

The Ethernet Alliance is here to help networking companies promote the standard. This is precisely the wrong way around

By the most rigorous standards, Ethernet has been a success. Born thirty years ago, it is now a true standard: your laptop will come with both wired and wireless versions, either of which will work with the bare minimum of fuss with whatever Ethernet connectivity you encounter. In this business, that's as good as it gets.

So the Ethernet Alliance's formation earlier this week — purpose, to promote the use of the eponymous standard — would seem as pointless as the creation of the Beer Marketing Board. We already know and trust the product, and we thoroughly approve. You may now move on to telling us something we didn't already know.

The Alliance's given reasons for living are a bit more complicated than just plugging Ethernet. It wants to be an umbrella marketing organisation for all the 802 groups under the IEEE, and to organise interoperability tests. There are already plenty of such groups such as the Metro Ethernet Forum and the Wi-Fi Alliance, grouped more or less sensibly in areas where interoperability matters. And where there are problems such as in the standardisation efforts for Ultrawideband or 802.11n the issue is that there is too much strategic marketing input, not too little. The engineers are not left alone to do their job.

In 1976, Ethernet was a 3Mbps simple wired network. In 2006, Ethernet is a brand that covers hundreds of technologies, many entirely unrelated to each other. It must seem almost insulting to professional marketing managers that such a large, successful and disparate name should thrive without being managed professionally: we understand their frustration and itchy fingers. We do not approve.

It isn't broken. Don't fix it. If you want to fix things, ask yourselves why your companies aren't co-operating successfully where it matters, in the creation of true universal standards that will ensure the continued success of Ethernet. Just joining another marketing alliance is not the answer: taking a longer-term view than immediate market dominance is much closer to the mark.

Ethernet is more successful than you. Don't try and run it. Learn from it.


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