More Users, Faster Access, More Services: The Ongoing Ethernet Bandwidth Explosion


Trends around traffic drivers such as video, 5G, and IEEE 802.11™ Wi-Fi® point toward an ongoing bandwidth explosion for Ethernet networks around the world going forward. The publicly available IEEE 802.3™ Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment report details undeniable, simultaneous trends toward more users, faster access speeds, more services, more devices coming online, greater difference between average and peak bandwidth demands on networks, etc.

Every single data point from the report’s tremendous volume and breadth of information points to continuing growth in bandwidth for Ethernet networks, driven by innovation in and around IEEE 802.3, IEEE Standard for Ethernet. The report, for which a tutorial presentation is available, captures the dynamic in a simple but meaningful equation: an increased number of users, multiplied by increased rates and method and increased services, equates to ongoing bandwidth explosion for Ethernet networks.

Broad Diversity in Bandwidth Growth Rates

Culminating a year-long study of global usage, the report published in April 2020 is based on contributions of data from individuals and organizations worldwide related to the network-bandwidth growth trends with profound implications for Ethernet wireline applications. This is the second IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment report. The first, published in 2012 by the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group, heavily influenced recent years of standards innovation targeting 400 Gigabits per second Ethernet (GbE). The 2020 report—reflecting more input from more users, application spaces, and geographic markets—also figures to inform possible future IEEE 802.3 activities.

Highlights from the data illuminate both the growth and diversity of demand on Ethernet networks:

  • Market peculiarities: China and India are shown to be the two countries with the greatest number of Internet users, and yet the percentage of the countries’ population who are Internet users is relatively low (58 percent in China and 41 percent in India). This leaves huge potential for bandwidth growth from China and India, as Ethernet connectivity and Internet access are rolled out to more areas of those two countries. Bandwidth growth in the United States, on the other hand, is shown in the report to be driven likely not as much by new Internet users (as they already make up 89 percent of the U.S. population) but by growth in documented rising numbers of devices per user and high-bandwidth applications.
  • Rates per application space: “Relative to observed traffic in 2017, the submitted data to the 2020 Ethernet BWA indicates a broad diversity in the bandwidth growth rates of the various applications explored, ranging in 2025 from 2.3× to 55.4× the traffic levels of 2017.” Hyperscale data centers and mobile networks are among the application spaces poised for particularly dramatic bandwidth growth.
  • Growth across access methods: Growth in access rates from 2017 to 2022 is forecasted across all access methods, but variation is significant from region to region around the world. Asia Pacific, at 98.8 Megabits per second (Mb/s), is predicted by 2022 to evidence the world’s highest fixed broadband data rate; North America, at 83.3 Mb/s, the highest average Wi-Fi data rate, and Western Europe, at 50.5 Mb/s, the highest average cellular data rate. Greatest compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) for fixed broadband is forecast for the Middle East and Africa; for Wi-Fi, Asia Pacific and Latin America, and, for cellular, Latin America.
  • Continuing video surge: The importance of video continues. Connected 4K televisions, for example, are projected for 38-percent CAGR between 2017 and 2022, which means significant new bandwidth requirements for the Ethernet networks enabling them. The 4K sets can receive ultra-high-definition (UHD) signals requiring 15 to 18 Mb/s, compared to standard definition of 2 Mb/s or high definition of 5 to 7.2 Mb/s. “It is anticipated that in the future, support of video beyond UHD, such as 8K/12K/16K, will further accelerate bandwidth growth,” reads the report.

The diverse threads of exponential growth of bandwidth demands on the world’s Ethernet networks recorded in the new IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment report is a clear signal from the market to the standards experts in the IEEE 802.3 community: we must continue to innovate in order to satisfy increasing demand, and the time to begin the next innovation of Ethernet is now.

Informing Ongoing IEEE 802.3 Innovation

Indeed, the IEEE 802.3 working group never stops working to drive the growth and diversity of Ethernet bandwidth growth around the world. IEEE 802 participants have repeatedly proven their innovation skills by delivering market-relevant and high-quality network standards over the past 40 years.

For example, two standards approved in late 2019 expanded the Ethernet application space. IEEE 802.3cg™ builds upon existing Ethernet automotive and industrial standards and provides an effective solution for a whole range of industrial- and building-automation applications, and IEEE 802.3cn™ meets the need for expanded high-speed broadband services worldwide that are being driven by world events and growth in mobile video delivery. In addition, work is underway in the IEEE 802.3 Industry Connections New Ethernet Applications Ad hoc to define a call-for-interest to begin work on a new study group to explore Beyond 400 GbE.

This report emphasizes the need for the continued dedication of current and future participants. We welcome everyone’s engagement and contributions. Individuals and organizations are encouraged to access the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment and register for the 5 August IEEE Virtual Tech Talk to explore the report findings, identify trends influencing the ongoing industry exponential bandwidth growth, and learn the potential impact on the various networks that make up today’s world.

Learn More About and Get Involved in IEEE 802 Initiatives

Author: John D’Ambrosia, chair of IEEE 802.3™ Industry Connections New Ethernet Applications Ad Hoc.

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