Beyond the role of enabling fast, reliable, and high-quality communication, IEEE 802 standards have also played a significant role in enabling ubiquitous digital connectivity and thereby supporting many aspects of the reduction of carbon emissions.

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The IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee (LMSC) develops network standards and is foundational in defining and regulating local area networks (LANs), metropolitan area networks (MANs), wide area networks (WANs), and personal area networks (PANs). These standards initially were conceived in the early 1980s to address the growing need for standardized networking protocols. Since then, they have continually evolved to meet emerging market needs. They play a critical role in the global digital connectivity infrastructure, which provides tools and services that help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

IEEE Life Fellow Paul Nikolich is the chair of the IEEE 802 LMSC, a volunteer role that he has held for the past 22 years. He has seen the development of the standards that have enabled the high degree of global digital connectivity.

Over the years, the IEEE 802 family expanded to include a wide range of standards, each addressing specific networking needs. Among them are ethernet, or IEEE 802.3(™)[1], which enabled the connection of computers in wireline networked environments, and IEEE 802.11 Standard for Wireless LANs(™)[2], commonly known as Wi-Fi, that revolutionized wireless communication. IEEE 802.15.4(™)[3] provides for ultra-low complexity, ultra-low cost, ultra-low power consumption, and low data rate wireless connectivity among inexpensive devices, especially targeting the communications requirements of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The IEEE 802 family of standards helps make it possible for smart cities, smart grid, and IoT to function.

Article 18 IEEE 802 data rates chart

The advancement in data rates across the IEEE 802.11 standard. Source:

With the density of LAN, MAN, and WAN networks, however, it is crucial to design effective and efficient channel access and physical layer schemes to manage the overlap and potential conflict or collisions. Many features specified in the IEEE 802.11ax(™)-2021[4] amendment enable devices to coordinate greater efficiency. For example, in their paper, “An Energy-Efficient Channel Access With Target Wake Time Scheduling for Overlapping 802.11ax Basic Service Sets,” published in the IEEE Internet of Things Journal, the authors propose a protocol that aims to help improve the reutilization of the resource units by increasing the number of parallel transmissions with sleep/wake-up period scheduling that is adaptive to the traffic loads.

The improved efficiency from IEEE 802.11ax features allows a higher concentration of devices in a small area to maintain robust connectivity—exactly what is needed for IoT applications. And as we learned during the pandemic, with high-speed, reliable networks, remote work became feasible, reducing the need for daily commuting and other travel. Nikolich makes this point: “IEEE 802 enabled the connectivity infrastructure that means we don’t have to travel to meet with each other in person. Virtual meetings have reduced the amount of travel that is necessary to conduct business, thereby having a huge impact on the reduction of carbon emissions.”

While much of the world is digitally connected, thanks to IEEE 802, Nikolich says, “true ubiquity does not yet exist. There are several reasons for this. The internet is simply not available everywhere yet. In addition, a wireless infrastructure requires a wired infrastructure. That means laying cables to homes and businesses and building new cell towers to support the latest 5G technology. As more fiber infrastructure is rolled out around the world, it becomes more practical to deploy extensive digital connectivity, but it will take time and investment. And as new networking technology is developed, the infrastructure must upgrade as well.”

Another hurdle is the investment expense required to fully deploy the networking infrastructure. Nikolich says, “It’s an expensive proposition as technology evolves. Infrastructure needs to be refreshed to accept the new technology, including that from network service providers as well as from consumers. Consumers will need to upgrade end devices with the new technology features. In the case of fiber optic cable, once it is deployed, the good news is that conceivably one could disconnect the old equipment or device from the existing fiber optic cable and attach the new equipment, and connectivity [could be] established very quickly.” Engineers are constantly inventing and developing improvements to overcome these hurdles.

Nikolich is confident that the internet will be able to support a hyper IoT environment. He points out that over the years, the fundamental features of wired and wireless technology have improved. “Features like modulation schemes and improved security schemes and improved access control schemes,” he says. “Thirty-five years ago, data rates were 10 megabits per second. Today, IEEE 802.3 ethernet projects are under development that will provide 1.6 terabits per second of capacity. The 802.11 WLAN standard includes modifications that significantly increase the number of endpoints that can efficiently connect to a Wi-Fi network. This is an important component when we think of the hyper-connected IoT environments, which will require a high-capacity network.” With over 40 years of constant incremental improvement, the technology and infrastructure will continue to improve with time.

As he looks to the future and what to advise young professionals in the networking sector, Nikolich says, “The set of technologies in which IEEE members have deep and broad expertise have a tremendous potential that support reducing carbon emissions. By getting involved in IEEE, young professionals can become intimately connected to global experts. One of those topics [is] connectivity. The IEEE 802 volunteer community is a logical place to start where you can learn from the experts and then contribute to the next generation of networking technologies. We are open to all; come join us.”

The evolution of IEEE 802 standards paved the way for the interconnected world we live in today. Beyond their role in enabling fast, reliable, and high-quality communication, IEEE 802 standards continue to play a vital role in enabling many tools and services that assist in sustainability efforts.

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[1] “IEEE Standard for Ethernet,” in IEEE Std 802.3-2022 (Revision of IEEE Std 802.3-2018), pp. 1-7025, 29 July 2022, doi: 10.1109/IEEESTD.2022.9844436.

“IEEE Standard for Information Technology–Telecommunications and Information Exchange between Systems – Local and Metropolitan Area Networks–Specific Requirements – Part 11: Wireless LAN Medium Access Control (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) Specifications,” in IEEE Std 802.11-2020 (Revision of IEEE Std 802.11-2016), vol., no., pp.1-4379, 26 Feb. 2021, doi: 10.1109/IEEESTD.2021.9363693.

[3] “IEEE Standard for Low-Rate Wireless Networks,” in IEEE Std 802.15.4-2020 (Revision of IEEE Std 802.15.4-2015), vol., no., pp.1-800, 23 July 2020, doi: 10.1109/IEEESTD.2020.9144691.

[4] “IEEE Standard for Information Technology–Telecommunications and Information Exchange between Systems Local and Metropolitan Area Networks–Specific Requirements Part 11: Wireless LAN Medium Access Control (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) Specifications Amendment 1: Enhancements for High-Efficiency WLAN,” in IEEE Std 802.11ax-2021 (Amendment to IEEE Std 802.11-2020), pp. 1-767, 19 May 2021, doi: 10.1109/IEEESTD.2021.9442429.