IEEE 802 Committee Celebrates 30th Anniversary

The group's standards influence our daily lives

6 May 2010

Your computer, your smart phone, your e-book reader, your gaming system, and maybe your car are just a few of the things containing interfaces compliant with the suite of network interoperability standards developed by the IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee (LMSC). The committee, which brought forth standards for the Ethernet (802.3), Wi-Fi (802.11), and Bluetooth (802.15), is celebrating its 30th anniversary. It was formed in March 1980 to develop interoperable network standards for computers and office equipment in local and metropolitan networks, or LAN/MAN for short.

“From the local coffee shop to the International Space Station, the standards produced by the IEEE 802 committee dramatically influence our everyday lives,” says IEEE Fellow Paul Nikolich, the present chair of the committee. “Many things we fundamentally rely on—e-mail, for example—would not be as broadly available or as dependable without IEEE 802 networking standards.

“IEEE 802 continues to push the boundaries of innovation three decades after its inception. The high quality and broad application of 802 standards is a testament to committee members’ dedication, creativity, and vision.”

IEEE 802 began with the novel idea of creating a standard for local communications among devices manufactured by multiple vendors. The committee’s formation was inspired by the creation of separate standards for High-Level Data Link Control (HDLC) protocols and Xerox’s Ethernet product. Ethernet was based on the idea of computers communicating over a shared coaxial cable as a broadcast transmission medium, according to Robert M. Metcalfe, who invented Ethernet in 1973 at the company’s Palo Alto Research Center in California. Metcalfe recounted the history of Ethernet and the birth of the 802 committee in a 15 March Harvard Business Review blog entry, titled “The Day Dot-Coms Were Invented.” IEEE recognized him for his work with its 1988 Alexander Graham Bell Award and again in 1996 with its highest award, the IEEE Medal of Honor.

The first Ethernet products were built to have data rates about 10 000 times faster than the modems used over telephone lines of the time. Ethernet relies on data packets, the basic units of Internet communications. It was designed to network what later became known as personal computers.

According to Metcalfe, Xerox partnered with several groups in 1979 to develop Ethernet standards, including Digital Equipment, Intel, and his start-up, 3Com. The companies formed the so-called DIX (Digital, Intel, and Xerox) consortium, which developed a specification that ultimately became one of the technologies proposed for the IEEE 802 LMSC standardization project.

“Many institutions are needed to spur technological innovation, and the IEEE 802 [committee] has to be one of the most effective [examples] of this in recorded history,” Metcalfe wrote on Facebook. “The work of open standardization is technically challenging and sometimes politically ugly, so we owe a special thanks to the people who do it well. Thank you to the people of IEEE 802 for being sure the Internet had the plumbing it needed each step of the way.”

Today the IEEE 802 portfolio of standards has more than 100, including ones for mobile broadband-access and mesh networks. Contributing to the standards’ widespread use is the Get IEEE 802 program, introduced in 2001. Established by the IEEE Standards Association and funded by the IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Committee, the program lets anyone with a computer and Internet service download IEEE 802 standards at no charge six months after they’re published.

It’s estimated that more than 98 percent of all Internet traffic crosses one or more IEEE 802 networks during its transmission, says Senior Member Patricia Thaler, vice chair of the IEEE 802 committee.

“The IEEE 802 standards project continues to serve as a vital incubator for cutting-edge networking technologies and innovations, whether enabling remote medical diagnostics, the universal smart grid, or tomorrow’s best-selling virtual reality game,” says Member Mark Klerer, chair of the IEEE Std. 802.20 for Mobile Broadband Multiple Access.

“IEEE 802 will continue to push the boundaries of communications by its work on high-performance networks, reaching upward toward terabit speeds, advanced network architectures including ad-hoc and mesh networks, visible-light communication, and beyond,” he says.

For more information about the anniversary, visit the IEEE 802 Standards Development Group 30th Anniversary Facebook page where visitors are encouraged to read about and contribute anniversary news, information, and historical trivia.


IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

Learn More