Ethernet communication protocol (networking software and hardware standards) and its variants are detailed in IEEE 802.3-2018 - Standard for Ethernet at Variants may not be interoperable in their software compatibility or physical layer wires, plug and connector designs without gateways or modules to translate and interconnect.

Ethernet Content

Ethernet reliability in the age of IIoT, digital transformation

Improving Ethernet technology can enable the better coordination of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) communications and improve reliability.


Learning Objectives

  • Ethernet has become the default for industrial manufacturing systems.
  • Users can engineer Ethernet reliability into an application by first knowing what products will be using the network and then coordinating the network’s use.
  • The adoption of Ethernet with time-sensitive networking (TSN) can manage reliability through added bandwidth, communications scheduling and traffic management.

Industrial Ethernet, manufacturing reliability, IT and OT insights

  • Ethernet can help information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) networks better connect and eliminate downtime.
  • Industrial Ethernet also should enable devices to schedule communications, avoiding communication collisions and potential snags.

The continuous need to improve manufacturing processes and become more competitive is driving industrial communications advancements. Ethernet is already advancing with new speeds and has become the default for industrial systems. While the slower moving automation market is still operating at 10 or 100Mb speeds, the information technology (IT) world is benefitting from 1 to 10Gb speeds. Some industrial networks are already delivering 1Gb support. While increased bandwidth helps to handle more traffic, it does little to improve reliability in a market that requires 100% reliability.

Today, users can engineer Ethernet reliability into an application by first knowing what products will be using the network and then coordinate their use of the network. By default, this requires closed networks, which limits access to data. This limits the opportunities for continuous improvement and digital transformation.

The manufacturing industry is constantly looking to improve performance, save costs and eliminate downtime. Access to industrial networks – (operational technology (OT) networks) from business networks (IT)) can enable and optimize digital transformation strategies, but how remains a challenge.

Improve Ethernet technology for better IT/OT communication

Improving Ethernet technology enables better coordination of OT and IT communications. Ethernet relies on a process of identifying collisions in communications and then covering after a wait time. While this is a good process for general purpose IT networks, it is not optimal for OT networks.

Traffic message sizes also pose a challenge, and care must be taken to ensure a device doesn’t consume an inordinate level of bandwidth at any one time. While it would be great to improve all end devices on a network for conformance, an alternative solution would be improving the Ethernet standard to “shape” traffic through frame preemption and prioritization.

Ethernet also should offer time synchronization, enabling devices to schedule communications, avoiding communication collisions. Devices can coordinate their communications, knowing they have been negotiated for dedicated use. Precision timestamping is achieved at the nanosecond level of accuracy.

Five benefits of combined IT/OT network implementations

These Ethernet enhancements were started in 2012 by the IEEE 802.1 [Ethernet] working group. The first result was delivered in a new specification in 2018. Ethernet with time-sensitive networking (TSN) is very important for industrial automation applications. TSN brings five benefits – some immediate and some to be realized over time:

The four short-term benefits are:

  • All OT devices are available from an IT network – Enabling improvements in analytics, asset management, and device management.

  • Improved performance – The combination of scheduling, prioritization and greater bandwidth is resulting reliable, larger, and more complex applications.

  • Simpler architectures – Resulting in cost savings and improved reliability.

  • Troubleshooting ease – Users can now leverage IT tools such as simple network management protocol (SNMP) to interact with and manage devices.

  • The long-term TSN benefit is Improved cost effectiveness through new product delivery and market competition – Initial solutions focused on high performance applications. Over time, device vendors and infrastructure vendors have stepped forward with compatible product offerings.

TSN: Improved industrial network integration

Ethernet with TSN will be implemented in “Islands of TSN,” dedicated to a machine or a production line, delivering high performance, deterministic and reliable communications, while bridging those communications to IT networks to enable wider access to information.

As the push continues for higher performance, tighter controls and converged networks, there needs to be an equal focus on maintaining reliability. The adoption of Ethernet with TSN will be the easiest solution for managing that need for reliability through added bandwidth, communications scheduling and traffic management.

Thomas Burke is global strategic advisor at CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA), a CFE Media and Technology content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,


Keywords: Ethernet, IT/OT networks


How have Ethernet networks helped your facility?

Ethernet FAQ

  • How does Industrial Ethernet differ from traditional Ethernet?

    Industrial Ethernet is a type of Ethernet networking technology designed specifically for industrial applications, while traditional Ethernet is a more general-purpose networking technology designed for office and data center environments. The main differences between Industrial Ethernet and traditional Ethernet are:

    • Environmental conditions: Industrial Ethernet is designed to operate in harsh industrial environments, withstanding temperature, vibration and electrical interference, while traditional Ethernet is typically used in more benign office and data center environments.
    • Network topology: Industrial Ethernet may use different network topologies, such as star, tree and ring, to provide a highly reliable network, while traditional Ethernet typically uses a star topology.
    • Network security: Industrial Ethernet provides a high level of security to protect against cyber threats, while traditional Ethernet may not have such strict security requirements.
    • Interoperability: Industrial Ethernet must support interoperability between different devices, systems and technologies, while traditional Ethernet may not have such strict requirements for interoperability.
    • Real-time requirements: Industrial Ethernet must support real-time control and monitoring, and have a deterministic response time, while traditional Ethernet may not have such strict requirements.

    These differences highlight the unique challenges and requirements of industrial automation systems, and the need for specialized Industrial Ethernet networking technology to support the efficient and reliable operation of industrial processes.

  • How will industrial Ethernet change manufacturing?

    • Increased efficiency: Industrial Ethernet enables real-time communication and control between devices, systems and technologies, leading to improved process efficiency and reduced downtime.
    • Predictive maintenance: With the use of more widely connected devices and sensors, industrial Ethernet enables the collection of real-time data that can be analyzed to predict equipment failure and schedule maintenance before it occurs, reducing downtime and increasing efficiency.
    • Enhanced safety: Industrial Ethernet enables real-time monitoring and control of industrial processes, helping to improve process safety and reduce the risk of accidents.
    • Improved product quality: Industrial Ethernet enables the collection of real-time data from sensors and devices, providing valuable information that can be used to optimize processes, improve product quality and reduce waste.
    • Scalability: Industrial Ethernet provides a scalable and flexible communication infrastructure that can be easily expanded as manufacturing processes and technologies evolve.
  • What are the biggest challenges facing industrial Ethernet?

    • Interoperability: Ensuring that different devices, systems and technologies can communicate with each other seamlessly is a major challenge in industrial Ethernet. This requires the development of standardized protocols and technologies that can be widely adopted.
    • Cybersecurity: As industrial Ethernet becomes increasingly connected, it becomes more vulnerable to cyber threats. Ensuring the security of industrial networks is a critical challenge that must be addressed to prevent cyber attacks and data breaches.
    • Bandwidth: Industrial Ethernet is more often required to support real-time communication and control, requiring sufficient bandwidth to handle the large amounts of data generated by connected devices and sensors.
    • Reliability: Industrial Ethernet must be highly reliable to ensure the seamless operation of industrial processes. This requires the development of robust and redundant networking technologies that can withstand harsh industrial environments.
    • Integration with existing systems: Integrating industrial Ethernet with existing industrial automation systems can be a challenge, requiring a thorough understanding of the existing systems and the development of a seamless integration strategy.
    • Cost: Implementing industrial Ethernet can be expensive, requiring the investment in new networking technologies and infrastructure. Balancing the cost with the benefits of improved efficiency, reduced downtime and improved process safety is a key challenge.
  • What are the most recent technological advances in industrial Ethernet?

    Some of the most recent technological advances in industrial Ethernet include:

    • Time-sensitive networking (TSN): TSN is a set of technologies that enable real-time communication and control in industrial Ethernet networks.
    • 5G technology: 5G networks are being developed to support the growing number of connected devices and systems in industrial environments, providing higher bandwidth and lower latency.
    • Edge computing: Edge computing enables data processing and analysis to be performed at the network edge, reducing the amount of data transmitted to central locations and improving system responsiveness.
    • Cybersecurity: As industrial Ethernet networks become more connected, there is a growing need for advanced cybersecurity technologies to protect against cyber attacks.
    • Artificial intelligence and machine learning: AI and ML are being integrated into industrial Ethernet networks to enable self-optimizing and autonomous systems.
    • Wireless industrial Ethernet: The development of wireless industrial Ethernet is increasing the flexibility and scalability of industrial networks, reducing the need for wired connections.
    • Industrial IoT: The increasing adoption of the internet of things (IoT) in industrial settings is driving the development of new networking technologies and protocols for industrial Ethernet.

Some FAQ content was compiled with the assistance of ChatGPT. Due to the limitations of AI tools, all content was edited and reviewed by our content team.