The Ethernet is about to come aboard your boat, courtesy of Furuno. NavNet, as this Ethernet system is called, will provide rapid communication among radar, sonar, chart plotters and the other residents of your navigation suite.
Furuno's decision to integrate this well-established and widely supported communication protocol into its product line is significant. Until now, manufacturers either met their requirements for digital data communication with the modest-speed NMEA 0183 protocol or by designing proprietary communication systems when they needed higher data rates. Although the latter works well for communication among a manufacturer's own devices, exchanging information with other systems often was difficult or impossible.
The Ethernet was first used in 1972 to connect computers, servers and laser printers at the lab. Originally called the Alto Aloha Network, it was renamed Ethernet in 1973. The use of the word "ether" reflected the concept of a physical cable carrying information to all users in the same way the ether was thought to carry radio waves through space.
The Ethernet developed into a communication system that can operate at 10 or 100 million bits per second. All Ethernet equipment built since 1985 complies with a single internationally recognized standard, ensuring that hardware purchased anywhere will function with all other components of a system. The major attributes of Ethernet include its ability to send data over inexpensive, easy-to-install twisted-pair wires, as well as over coaxial cable and optical fiber systems. More than 40 million Ethernet nodes in use around the world make the hardware readily available and inexpensive.
Furuno's decision to make NavNet identical in all operational respects to the Ethernet will greatly simplify the sharing of data among electronic systems. NavNet will allow installers to use the standard, widely available and economical 10/100 Base T cabling to interconnect hubs and hardware for a vessel's communication system. The only non-standard hardware in the NavNet system is the connectors used on the individual Furuno units and on the cable ends that plug into them. That's because standard Ethernet connectors (RJ-45) do not offer the high degree of mechanical strain relief and environmental resistance needed for marine rear-of-box connections.
For the immediate future, Furuno will be the only manufacturer able to accomplish interconnects using the ubiquitous Ethernet 10/100 Base T standard. However, the advantages of using this protocol and its hardware may prompt other manufacturers to adopt it for inter-unit communication.
Eventually, this seagoing Ethernet, called NavNet or another name, likely will achieve the same acceptance it has in the computer community. The opportunity to greatly increase the data rates by shifting to 100 Base T Ethernet should provide capacity for growth in the future.
Ethernet will live alongside, not replace, the existing NMEA 0183 or the new NMEA 2000 systems. It should provide numerous advantages because of its predictable performance and low hardware cost. Boat owners will benefit from its speed and from the ability of computer technicians to troubleshoot this already familiar system.
The price of a NavNet system varies with the individual Furuno products that go into it.