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VOE-Geoff Thompson


Interview with Geoff Thompson

Geoff Thompson has been part of the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group since 1983, and he chaired it from 1993 until 2002, a period in which standards innovations such as 1000-BASE-T and Gigabit Ethernet “effectively cemented Ethernet as the top dog in wired LANs (local area networks).”

But his connection with the technology and its inventors goes even further back. “I was a very, very early customer of Ethernet.” At Xerox Research in 1974, he was working on laser printing when David Boggs, a co-inventor of Ethernet, introduced Thompson and his colleagues to an early implementation of the technology for connecting computers in their labs. “So I was an early user of the experimental Ethernet.”


“Ethernet standards achieved a great deal. Standards are the thing that allowed the market and individuals to be able to use Ethernet at a very competitive cost, and the fact is you plug it in and it works. It is very complicated to pass data from one point to another over Ethernet. Yet because it is a standard and so many people have implemented it and improved it, it just makes it work. It is ubiquitous everywhere. ”

Geoff Thompson, IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group Chair, 1993-2002

It was the coming together of the “Office of the Future,” Thompson recalls. “A computer on every desk and keyboard under every employee … Ethernet was the glue that sort of connected those different innovations together.”

One of the key choices in Ethernet’s early days of development and then standardization, he says, “was the network had no memory at all. Every time you put a packet onto the network. It was a completely new network event and didn’t depend on anything that happened before … That gave you a media-independent interface … and gave us the flexibility to follow the market without fundamentally changing it. That was very, very important.”

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