By the late 1980s, Ethernet had effectively won, Metcalfe said. Its backers had included Intel, Digital and a small company Metcalfe himself launched to serve the nascent market for adapters and network gear, called 3Com.
PARC's team had taken Ethernet up to 20Mbps, but to ensure it would work on Intel's chips, they scaled back the proposed standard to 10Mbps. Still, they weren't sure anyone would need that much speed. Eventually people did need that much Ethernet, and then some.
"We argued about whether 10 was too much. And then came 100Mb, and then a gigabit, and then 10Gb and 40Gb, and now 100Gb, and now 400Gb is being standardized, and terabit is being talked about," Metcalfe said. "The big surprise has always been that new applications emerged each time we sped up Ethernet."
As with other widely used technologies, success has bred more success. Each iteration has gotten cheaper as it's grown more ubiquitous. One key to Ethernet's success is that every successive version has been backward compatible with the previous ones already in use, Metcalfe said.
Metcalfe shares the patent for Ethernet with Boggs, as well as Thacker and Butler Lampson, another PARC guru. Many others at PARC helped develop software and hardware for the new network, he said. Today, Metcalfe teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and says he's winding down a career as a venture capitalist at Polaris Partners. Boggs co-founded LAN Media, a maker of network adapters, which was acquired by SBE in 2000.
Ethernet, which started out on coaxial cable and later moved to twisted-pair cable, has also been extended to other media and, depending on whom you asked, helped spawn other network technologies. If 1Tbps speed wasn't in its creators' minds, different forms of Ethernet were. In the May 22 memo, Metcalfe envisioned The Ether Network running over cable TV or phone lines, radio, and even powerlines.
Ethernet ultimately would come to all those other media, including wireless, where it formed part of the basis for Wi-Fi, according to Metcalfe. The technology has evolved into something far different from what he and Boggs built, and along the way it has had "hundreds of inventors," Metcalfe said. That's why he's looking forward to Wednesday's event.
"One of the things inventors do when they gather is they argue about who invented what, and who was first, and who the charlatans are, and you see all of this really ugly behavior," he said. "I'm just like those people.
"I'm also old enough to realize how ugly that can get. So I'd much rather stop arguing with them and just celebrate their contributions," Metcalfe said. "At our conference on May 22, I'm hoping to get all the unsung heroes of Ethernet to show up and tell their side of the story."