TSN – Changing the way Real-Time Industrial Systems are designed

Robotic Arm

Ethernet forms the backbone of the Internet, with incredibly fast 40G and 100G networks leading the way. However, this isn’t always the case in industrial environments, like manufacturing and electrical power grids, that require deterministic communications for distributed control and measurement.

Until recently, standard Ethernet was not suitable for deterministic communications needed for applications such as motion control.  This was due to Ethernet’s best-effort packet delivery model that doesn’t guarantee a quality of service (QoS) level and provide a common time across connected bridges and endpoints in a network.

Common Industrial Ethernet Networking Protocols

To address Industrial applications that could support deterministic high-speed machine-to-machine communications, specialized Industrial Ethernet protocols like EtherCAT, Ethernet/IP, ProfiNet, CC-Link-IE etc. were developed. However, short of using a single-vendor’s solution for an entire factory, bridging between these protocols requires extra cost and complexity in the form of network proxy/gateway devices. To varying degrees, these industrial protocols also created barriers between operational technology (OT) used on the “plant floor” and the IT systems used by the rest of the organization – “top floor”.

Thankfully, this is changing with new Ethernet IEEE 802 standards – referred to as Time Sensitive Networking (TSN). Originally referred to as Audio Video Bridging (AVB) due to its initial application in deterministic AV applications, TSN brings guaranteed real-time performance to standard Ethernet. For industrial applications, TSN provides a common, deterministic foundation for various industrial protocols and will ultimately reduce network complexity, decrease networking costs, improve security, and further the convergence of IT and OT traffic on the same network in industrial settings.

To accomplish this, IEEE TSN standards define many capabilities that can be categorized into four groups: time synchronization, traffic shaping, network reliability and resource management.

Core Elements of TSN


Many industrial companies understand the way seamless communications between the top floor and the shop floor can increase efficiency, productivity, and performance of the organization. This IT/OT convergence is made easier by deploying Ethernet-based TSN as a single network from top to bottom. As a result, all the computing systems in the organization can use the same infrastructure, whether to provide real-time control in an industrial setting or support standard IT application and cloud communication. For industrial companies, this allows for convergence of control, measurement, configuration, user interface, file exchange infrastructure, and other systems.

Such a transition is necessary to implement Industry 4.0, which calls for cyber-physical systems that will drive manufacturing operations to be smarter, networked, and autonomous. It is also aligned to the Internet of Things (IoT), which uses digital technology to enhance the collaboration among humans, machines, things, and enterprise systems.

For more information about Industry 4.0 and Intel offerings for IoT, please visit Intel’s IoT Solutions Website.


Since the release of the Intel Ethernet Controller I210 in 2012, Intel processor-based platforms have supported many TSN features, including:

  • IEEE 802.1AS Generalized Precision Time Protocol (A profile of IEEE1588 standard)
  • IEEE 802.1Qbv Time-aware Shaper for fine-grained packet scheduling. Dedicated hardware queues  ensure that time critical traffic is prioritized above other network traffic.
  • IEEE 802.1Qav Credit-based Shaper for traffic shaping used in Audio Video Bridging (AVB) applications.
  • IEEE 802.1Qbu Frame Preemption to ensure that high priority traffic arrives at a destination with a fixed latency.

Intel has many products integrating Ethernet TSN into SoCs and at the platform (board) level. To learn more about these solutions, please visit Intel’s IoT Real-Time Website


Today, there are many real-time Industrial Ethernet protocols that hinder the advancement of digital technologies in industrial settings. TSN will drive standardized and open communications across the organization, as well as further vendor interoperability and data exchange over IoT infrastructure. The IoT platforms from intel with TSN will help accelerate innovation in this direction.

To learn more:

Article: Adopting Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) for Automation Systems

White Paper: Time-Sensitive Networking (From Theory to Implementation in Industrial Automation)

External White Paper: The Business Impact of TSN for Industrial Systems