Ethernet conquers all. The IEEE has begun the standardization process for Ethernet AV, a set of modifications to existing Ethernet specs designed to make the protocol bulletproof for transmitting streaming audio and video.
Ethernet is by design a best-effort protocol. If a particular link is oversubscribed, someone’s bits will slide onto the floor (worst case) or experience erratic delays (best case). 802.1p allows traffic to be bucketized into 8 classes of service, but provides no mechanism to guarantee delivery for traffic within a given class. The easiest way to deal with this problem is to have a pipe much bigger than the data going through it. Unfortunately this isn’t a viable solution when you are dealing with multiple 15Mb/s HD streams over VDSL (100Mb/s best case) or WiFi.
Given the explosion of media that will crisscross into and through the digital home of the future, modifications to the Ethernet standard are necessary to ensure it retains it’s rightful place at the top of the data protocol pyramid.
A presentation authored by a Broadcom (BRCM) employee outlines the goals of the project and the technical changes needed to realize them. Check it out here. Nothing revolutionary here, but a number of evolutionary changes are underway.
Interesting things happen when you combine the concepts of Ethernet AV with Power over Ethernet (PoE). One can envision a future where low-power speakers, digital picture frames, telephones, videophones (ok I’m stretching here), have a single RJ-45 wall connection for power and a robust data link.
Work is still needed at higher layers to provide network management of the home network as it becomes more mission critical (god forbid my DVR doesn’t record Pro Cycling) and more complex. It isn’t clear to me what needs to be done here or who will do it, but it’s going to be a big problem.