What is Ethernet?
Ethernet is the traditional technology for connecting devices in a wired local area network (Local network) or a wide area network. It allows devices to communicate with each other via a protocolwhich is a set of rules or a common network language.
Ethernet describes how network devices format and transmit data so that other devices on the same LAN or campus can recognize, receive, and process the information. An Ethernet cable is the wrapped physical cabling over which data travels.
Connected devices that use cables to access a geographically located network (instead of a wireless connection) likely use Ethernet. From businesses to gamers, various end users rely on the benefits of Ethernet connectivity, including reliability and security.
Compared to wireless LAN (Wireless), Ethernet is generally less vulnerable to disruption. It can also provide a greater degree of network security and control than wireless technology because devices must connect using physical wiring. This makes it difficult for third parties to access network data or hijack bandwidth for unauthorized devices.
Why is Ethernet used?
Ethernet is used to connect devices in a network and remains a popular form of network connection. Some organizations with local area networks, such as corporate offices, school campuses, and hospitals, use Ethernet for its high speed, security, and reliability.
Ethernet initially became popular because of its inexpensive price compared to competing technologies of the time, such as IBM’s Token Ring. As networking technology advanced, Ethernet’s ability to scale and deliver higher levels of performance ensured its enduring popularity. Throughout its evolution, Ethernet has also maintained backwards compatibility.
Ethernet’s initial throughput of 10 megabits per second increased tenfold to 100 Mbps by the mid-1990s. IEEE continues to deliver increased performance with successive updates. Current versions of Ethernet supports operations up to 400 gigabits per second (Gbps).
Advantages of Ethernet
Ethernet has many benefits for users, which is why it has become so popular. Here are some of the common advantages of Ethernet:
- Relatively low cost.
- Backward compatibility.
- Generally noise resistant.
- Good data transfer quality.
- Data security, as common firewalls can be used.
Disadvantages of Ethernet
Despite its widespread use, Ethernet has its share of disadvantages, such as the following:
- Intended for smaller, shorter distance networks.
- Reduced mobility.
- Using longer cables may cause interference.
- Does not work well with real-time or interactive applications.
- Speeds decrease as traffic increases.
- Receivers do not acknowledge receipt of data packets.
- Troubleshooting is difficult when trying to determine which specific cable or node is causing the problem.
Ethernet vs. Wi-Fi
Wireless is the most popular type of network connection. Unlike wired connection types, such as Ethernet, connecting a physical cable is not necessary. Instead, data is transmitted via wireless signals.
Here are some of the main differences between Ethernet and Wi-Fi Connections.
- Transmit data via cable.
- Limited mobility, as a physical cable is required.
- More speed, reliability and security than Wi-Fi.
- Constant speed.
- Data encryption is not required.
- Lower latency.
- More complex installation process.
- Transmit data via wireless signals rather than a cable.
- Better mobility, as no cables are required.
- Not as fast, reliable or secure as Ethernet.
- More convenient because users can connect to the Internet from anywhere.
- Inconsistent speed, as Wi-Fi is prone to signal interference.
- Require data encryption.
- Higher latency than Ethernet.
- Simpler installation process.
How Ethernet Works
Ethernet defines two transmission units: the packet and the frame. The frame includes the payload of the transmitted data, as well as the following:
- Physical media access control addresses of the sender and recipient.
- Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) Tagging and information on the quality of service.
- Error correction information to detect transmission problems.
Each frame is wrapped in a packet containing several bytes of information to establish the connection and mark where the frame begins.
Xerox engineers first developed Ethernet in the 1970s. Ethernet was initially outdated coaxial cables. Early Ethernet connected multiple devices into network segments via hubs (layer 1 devices responsible for transporting network data) using a daisy chain or star topology. Currently, a typical Ethernet LAN uses special grades of twisted pair cables or fiber optic cabling.
If two devices sharing a hub attempt to transmit data at the same time, the packets may collide and create connectivity issues. To alleviate these digital traffic jams, the IEEE developed the Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection protocol. This protocol allows devices to check if a given line is in use before initiating new transmissions.
Later, Ethernet hubs have largely given way to network switches. Because a hub cannot distinguish between points on a network segment, it cannot send data directly from point A to point B. Instead, each time a network device sends transmission through an input port, the hub copies the data and distributes it to everyone. output ports available.
In contrast, a switch intelligently sends only traffic intended for its devices to a given port rather than copies of all transmissions on the network segment, improving security and efficiency.
As with other types of networks, the computers involved must include a network interface card (NIC) to connect to Ethernet.
Types of Ethernet cables
The IEEE 802.3 working group approved the first Ethernet standard in 1983. Since then, the technology has continued to evolve and adopt new media, higher transmission speeds, and changes in frame content.
Below are some of the changes to Ethernet over time:
- 802.3ac was introduced to support VLAN and priority tagging.
- 802.3af defines Power over Ethernetwhich is crucial for most Wi-Fi and IP telephony deployments.
- 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax define the wireless equivalents of Ethernet for WLANs.
- 802.3ua ushered in 100BASE-T – also known as Fast Ethernet – with data transmission speeds of up to 100 Mbps. The term BASE-T indicates the use of twisted pair wiring.
Gigabit Ethernet delivers speeds of 1,000 Mbps — 1 gigabit or 1 billion bits per second (bps) — 10GbE, up to 10 Gbit/s, and so on. Over time, the typical speed of each connection tends to increase.
Network engineers use 100BASE-T to do the following:
- Connect end-user computers, printers and other devices.
- Manage servers and storage.
- Get faster speeds for backbone network segments.
Ethernet cables connect network devices to the appropriate routers or modems. Different cables work with different standards and speeds. For example, Category 5 (Cat5) cables support traditional Ethernet and 100BASE-T. Cat5e cables can handle Gigabit Ethernet, while Cat6 works with 10 GbE.
There are also Ethernet crossover cables, which connect two devices of the same type. These cables allow you to connect two computers without a switch or router between them.
Editor’s note: This definition has been updated to improve the reader experience.