Ethernet is a data transmission technology for wired networks and is the standard for transmitting data packages in local home or office networks (LAN, Local Area Network).
Within such a network, all connected electronic devices such as computers, printers and servers can communicate with one another via LAN cables.
Data is sent and received via Ethernet. Ethernet does not work wirelessly like WLAN, but rather is only wired. In networked industrial environments, wired Ethernet offers a significantly higher data transmission rate and reliable transmission stability than the alternative networking via WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network).
The American working group IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) has defined and standardised the Ethernet network protocol and the structure of its packages with the IEEE specification 802.3.
The relevance of Ethernet
The Ethernet standard began in the 1970s. Back then, however, only a very low transmission rate was possible. Over the past few decades, data transmission technology has developed steadily so that speeds of up to 10,000 Mbit/s or 10 Gbit/s can now be achieved. This is also referred to as Gigabit Ethernet.
With the advent of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things, the time had come to further develop the possibilities of data transmission. This new economic environment required IT systems from building and office networks to merge with industrial machine networks. This changed the type of communication and thus the requirements for data transmission.
It quickly became clear that the properties of the classic Ethernet from building cabling were no longer sufficient for industrial environments.
What does "Ethernet" actually mean?
Ancient Greek word derived from the ether theory, meaning "heaven". In previous centuries, it was assumed that the ether was a medium through which electromagnetic waves were propagated in space.
What is what: Ethernet vs industrial Ethernet
Industrial Ethernet is the successor to conventional office LAN Ethernet and is primarily used for data communication in industrial production. There are good reasons for this: it offers seamless network infrastructure in real time. The fields of application are diverse, from the field level and control level to the corporate management level (Manufacturing Execution System [MES] for order coordination and Enterprise Resource Planning [ERP] for material planning).
Industrial Ethernet technology also offers a very large address space. IPV6 addressing enables networks with a virtually unlimited number of nodes to be implemented. Large amounts of data can be transmitted simultaneously at high speeds of up to 40 Gbit/s via copper. This also applies to data communication over long distances: in comparison to copper cables, fibre optic cables can bridge distances of up to 80 km. Networks can be easily expanded and segmented using switches and routers.
Advantages of industrial Ethernet compared to Fieldbus technology
Fieldbuses are bus systems used at field level to connect sensors and actuators to exchange information with a control computer. Fieldbuses originated in production technology. They are still primarily used there.
When it comes to automation, communication processes usually take place across several levels. Industrial Ethernet is used in industrial automation wherever the functions of Fieldbuses are no longer sufficient. After all, the advantages of Industrial Ethernet are:
- Possibility of networking across multiple levels of the automation pyramid
- Significantly faster data transmission
- Improved real-time properties
- Greater technical performance
- Transmission of larger data volumes
- Integration of safety protocols
Connection to wireless networks possible
With wireless LAN, data is transmitted wirelessly within a network using wireless technology. Intelligent wireless solutions are also becoming increasingly popular in the industrial sector. The result is a complex, dynamically designed radio field.
It is possible to transmit data between wireless and wired networks, meaning that WLAN and Ethernet can communicate with one another.
Advantages of wireless technology:
- Connection of mobile network participants with stationary participants
- Connection to rotating participants such as carousels or cranes
- Construction of wireless bridges across building boundaries or water
- Communication with participants that are difficult to access
Disadvantages of wireless technology:
- Radio waves are diffracted at obstacles
- Radio waves are reflected by obstacles
- Radio waves can be attenuated when passing through
- Radio waves can be intercepted and exploited without authorisation
When wireless is simply not possible
The use of a wired solution still has the greatest advantages in industrial production. The cable serves as an exclusive, consistent medium with fixed transmission properties, and to clearly identify the network participants. Anyone who uses Ethernet as a data transmission technology can use copper cables or fibre optic cables to distribute data packages.
Simple network communication via Ethernet protocol standards
A protocol or network protocol is a standardised set of rules for exchanging data, i.e. a type of network language. This is used for communication between computers and devices.
Standardised protocols are also known as protocol standards.
Find out more about the key protocol standards for Ethernet technology below:
TSN standard for effective control of real-time critical data
TSN, short for Time-Sensitive Networking, describes a way of controlling and prioritising data flows in Ethernet networks. However, Ethernet TSN is not an independent communication protocol, but rather a set of standards that define the functions of protocols. These function definitions can then be used by different protocols such as PROFINET.
The aim of developing the TSN standards is to intelligently merge information technology with industrial engineering. To do this, it requires data transmission from real-time critical applications, such as signal acquisition of a safety-relevant component.
By defining and expanding existing Ethernet standards, TSN achieves convergence between IT and the connected machines and devices. By effectively controlling real-time critical data and data-intensive applications, the Ethernet network can be implemented via a single common Ethernet cable.