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Process bus networks are the next stage in the evolution of substation design, bringing digital technology to the high-voltage switchyard. Benefits of process buses include facilitating the use of nonconventional instrument transformers, improved disturbance recording and phasor measurement, and the removal of costly, and potentially hazardous, copper cabling from substation switchyards and control rooms. This paper examines the role a process bus plays in an IEC 61850-based substation automation system. Measurements taken from a process bus substation are used to develop an understanding of the network characteristics of “whole of substation” process buses. The concept of “coherent transmission” is presented, and the impact of this on Ethernet switches is examined. Experiments based on substation observations are used to investigate in detail the behavior of Ethernet switches with sampled value traffic. Test methods that can be used to assess the adequacy of a network are proposed, and examples of the application and interpretation of these tests are provided. Once sampled value frames are queued by an Ethernet switch, the additional delay incurred by subsequent switches is minimal, and this allows their use in switchyards to further reduce communications cabling, without significantly impacting operation. The performance and reliability of a process bus network operating close to the theoretical maximum number of digital sampling units (merging units or electronic instrument transformers) was investigated with networking equipment from several vendors and has been demonstrated to be acceptable.