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Ethernet is emerging as the preferred industrial communication platform upon which a multitude of protocols and solutions specially targeted at industrial communication requirements have been developed. This paper concentrates on a set of protocols popularly referred to as the Real-time Ethernet protocols and analyses two key technologies, namely PROFINET IRT and EtherCAT. The real-time performance characteristics of PROFINET IRT and EtherCAT is compared by looking into what factors affect their performance in a set of realistic scenarios. The goal is to provide a scientifically solid study on this subject where many presentations are seriously flawed by basic mistakes, misunderstandings or biased views. The detailed analysis presented here shows that EtherCAT has a performance advantage over PROFINET IRT and the reasons for this are discussed.