Why Is Interoperability So Important for Ethernet Connectivity?

John Swanson, Madhumita Sanyal, Priyank Shukla

Mar 12, 2024 / 5 min read

If you find an old Ethernet device from 20 years ago in your closet and software drivers are still available for it, chances are it’ll still work. That’s the beauty of interoperability and solid standards from the IEEE enabling a range of vendors in a diverse ecosystem to collaborate, ensuring that their respective components/systems will operate reliably with one another. End users, then, don’t have to worry about incompatibility.

For Ethernet, the basis of network infrastructure around the world, interoperability is of the utmost importance. This is particularly the case for data centers and other bandwidth-intensive, high-speed applications. Their components are expensive, so rather than replacing parts, it’s most practical to upgrade the servers. Plus, updates to the standard generally take several years, so it’s important to ensure seamless, reliable operation over an extended period. When all the pieces are interoperable, then there’s no worry about excessive downtime or other performance issues.

What’s more, when different Ethernet systems and networks can communicate and exchange information seamlessly, this optimizes network efficiency, reduces operational complexities, and fosters robust, reliable connections across various devices and platforms. Read on to learn more about what’s needed to ensure seamless operation in the Ethernet ecosystem.  

How Simulation Supports Seamless Ethernet Operation

The IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group is responsible for developing standards for Ethernet networks. The standards body continues to push expansion toward ever-higher data rates to support demands for greater bandwidth with lower port count. Figure 1 shows the widespread adoption of the standard across all facets of the ecosystem. 

ieee physical interface standards

Figure 1. Widespread Ethernet adoption across the ecosystem. 

The Ethernet Technology Consortium, an open organization dedicated to enabling the transmission of Ethernet frames from 25Gbps or 800Gbps, also works to promote the standardization and improvement of the interfaces for applicable products. The array of Ethernet components in the market is too vast to be bound by an integrator’s list as PCI Express has, which helps ease the process of ensuring interoperability. However, the Ethernet Technology Consortium does spell out the “rules of the game” to encourage players to, well, play together.

So how can designers of Ethernet-based solutions—including switches, routers, interconnects, optical modules, and other infrastructure components—ensure that theirs will work with others on the market?

Before designing a system and even before choosing any IP, designers should go through an exhaustive evaluation process. With Ethernet, there are many variants, speeds, media, form factors, and reaches to consider. Simulation plays an important role in determining what will work in the real world, enabling designers to:

  • Test different scenarios and conditions, particularly those that would be impossible or impractical to test in a real-world environment. For example, testing the interoperability of different Ethernet devices and systems under varying loads, traffic conditions, and network configurations.
  • Identify and address potential interoperability issues early on, saving troubleshooting time and downtime.
  • Evaluate performance of different Ethernet devices and system as they work together, ensuring they can effectively communicate and exchange data without any significant performance degradation.
  • Help network engineers and other IT professions understand how different Ethernet devices and systems interact with each other. This awareness can help them better design, implement, and manage Ethernet networks involving multiple different devices and systems.
  • Predict outcomes of certain actions or changes in the network, so they can make informed decisions and plan for future expansions or modifications.
  • Validate designs, ensuring that everything in the network will work together seamlessly.

Aside from simulation, there are also many platforms where interoperability can be demonstrated. Such demonstrations provide design teams with confidence in the solutions they are evaluating. For example, the Ethernet Alliance hosts interoperability demonstrations at industry events that bring together multiple vendors. The University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL) provides independent, broad-based interoperability and standards conformance testing for the networking industry, including Ethernet technologies. And in the EU, the European Advanced Networking Test Center (EANTC) often organizes multi-vendor interoperability tests and demonstrations for Ethernet as well as other networking technologies.

Complete 1.6T Ethernet Design Solution Provides a Head Start

While exhaustive evaluation, simulation, and testing are important elements in an Ethernet interoperability game plan, so too is working with a vendor who has proven the performance of its solutions with those of other players in the ecosystem. Synopsys, for example, provides the industry's first complete solution for 1.6T Ethernet, the latest iteration in the evolution of the standard that is expected to be finalized by 2026. The solution includes tested, configurable, and interoperable Ethernet PHY and controller IP, as well as verification IP for early RTL verification, SoC bring-up, and system-level validation. Compliant with the evolving IEEE 802.3 and Ethernet Technology Consortium specifications, our solution has undergone extensive third-party interoperability testing. So, designers can begin developing their solutions for the latest standard today.

The video below shows ecosystem interoperability of Synopsys high-speed interface IP with components from multiple vendors at DesignCon 2024, one of many venues where Synopsys has demonstrated high-speed transmission and receipt of data with a diversity of solutions from other vendors.

Synopsys 224G/112G/PCIe 6.0 PHY at DesignCon 2024

Another recently successful demonstration of 800G Ethernet subsystem link-level interoperability took place at ECOC 2023. Watch the video below.

To help designers mitigate risks and achieve silicon success with their Ethernet-based offerings, Synopsys provides a range of tools and solutions, including in the areas of design, verification, virtual prototyping, consulting, and training. Synopsys technologists also actively drive collaborations with others in the ecosystem and, as members of the Ethernet Technology Consortium, we help shape the evolution of the standard.


In our hyperconnected, data-driven world, hyperscale data centers demand high-speed data transmission driven by standards such as Ethernet. Fast and secure Ethernet for advanced SoCs relies on a diverse ecosystem of vendors with interoperable solutions. Interoperability of devices, based on solid IEEE standards, plays a critical role in Ethernet connectivity, helping to ensure the seamless operation that’s behind every online search, large language model task, and high-performance computing workload.

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