As the world evolves ever-more nimbly toward a wireless landscape, an old stalwart of cable-connected technology still has a valuable role to play: the Ethernet.

While today’s WiFi enjoys greater flexibility, range, and convenience for numerous devices, Ethernet is still the go-to connective technology for businesses that demand greater security, speed, reliability, and data quality. The Ethernet is perfect for connecting equipment used by specific organizations such as universities and schools, hospitals, government entities, and business offices

What Is the Ethernet?

The Ethernet connects equipment such as switches, routers, and computers using a simple user interface. Communication between the linked devices is enabled using a local area network (LAN) using a single router and some Ethernet cables. The Ethernet is different from the Internet, which connects computers utilizing a telephone line, software protocol, and hardware. WiFi sends data using wireless signals.

What Is the Ethernet: How the Ethernet Was Born

The Ethernet was created in 1973 at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) 

by Robert Metcalfe and others. Xerox patented the technology in 1975. Metcalfe had two challenges: to build a fast enough network to drive the company’s new laser printer and to connect hundreds of computers in the same building. An open Ethernet standard was finalized in 1980, and by 1985, it had become an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standard. IEEE defines Ethernet as protocol 802.3.

Modern PCs began including Ethernet cards on the motherboard, which became very inexpensive. Ethernet networks in the workplace started with some small companies using telephone-based, four-wire lines. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that an Ethernet connection was established using twisted pair and fiber optic cables. This development facilitated the introduction of the 100 MB/s standard in 1995.

What Is the Ethernet: How the Ethernet Works

The Ethernet facilitates the operation of physical and data link layers and resides in the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) lower layers. OSI is a model describing how information from a software application on one computer moves to the software application on another computer.

The OSI model has seven layers: 

  1. Physical Layer – establishes, maintains, and deactivates the physical connection. Its primary function is transmitting the individual bits from one node to another.
  2. Data-Link Layer – responsible for the error-free transfer of data frames. It is responsible for uniquely identifying each device that resides on a local network.
  3. Network Layer – manages device addressing and tracks the location of devices on the network. It selects the best path to move data from a source to the destination based on the network conditions, service priority, and other factors.
  4. Transport Layer – ensures that messages are transmitted in the correct order and that there is no data duplication. Its main task is to transfer the data completely.
  5. Session Layer – establishes, maintains, and synchronizes the interaction between communicating devices.
  6. Presentation Layer – serves as the network’s data translator and works with the syntax and semantics of the information exchanged between two systems.
  7. Application Layer – helps users and application processes access network service.

Ethernet Speeds

The early Ethernet speeds puttered a mere 10 megabits per second (Mbps). Fast Ethernet increased data transfers up to 100 Mbps, and Gigabit Ethernet boasts speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps. In 2002, 10 Gigabit Ethernet was introduced with speeds of up to 10,000 Mbps. According to TechTarget, 10 Gigabit Ethernet provides a cost-effective means of addressing the speed requirements of newer computing applications — streaming, data centers, video, virtualization, data backups, and high-end gaming.

What Are Ethernet Cables and Setup

Not all Ethernet cables are alike. The most common Ethernet cable is Category 5 (or CAT5), which supports traditional and Fast Ethernet. Category 5e and Category 6 (CAT5e and CAT6) cables are used for Gigabit and 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

Ethernet cables run from the modem or modem-router combo (or gateway) to the Ethernet ports on devices such as desktop computers, laptop computers, and televisions.  

Different Types of Ethernet Networks

An Ethernet network usually is active in a 10-kilometer periphery, according to Versitron. Using fiber optic cable increases the distance covered by a network. Ethernet networks include: 

  • Fast Ethernet: This high-speed network can send or receive data at about 100 Mbps. Fast Ethernet has three categories: 100BASE-TX, 100BASE-FX, and 100BASE-T4.
  • Gigabit Ethernet: This network is one of the most widely used, and it transfers data at 1000 Mbps or 1Gbps. Gigabit Ethernet has fostered a faster transfer of data and a faster communication network.
  • 10-Gigabit Ethernet: This advanced, high-speed network transmits data at a rate of 10 Gigabit/second. The network can be extended to 10,000 meters using fiber-optic cable.
  • Switch Ethernet: This network has added switches or hubs, which can improve network throughput. It allows each workstation to have a dedicated 10 Mbps connection instead of sharing. Switch Ethernet supports 1000Mbps to 10 Gbps and 10Mbps to 100Mbps for Fast Ethernet.

Ethernet vs. WiFi

  • Speed – Ethernet is almost always faster than WiFi. True, many variables determine the speeds of WiFi and Ethernet connections. As stated above, Ethernet reaches speeds of 10 Gbps and more, while WiFi speeds hit a limit of 6.9 Gbps. However, WiFi speeds are more commonly less than 1 Gbps. 
  • Latency – Latency measures the time data takes to leave your device, reach its destination, and return. In applications such as gaming, the time should be as short as possible. Ethernet has a distinct advantage when it comes to lower latency. WiFi has greater latency because of variables such as location, the number of devices on the network, and possible interference from other wireless devices. With WiFi, users can also be faced with a dropped connection.
  • Large files – When uploading or downloading large files, streaming video, or working with bandwidth-intensive applications, an Ethernet connection will ease the wait and increase a user’s joy with lower latency and faster data transfer.
  • Reliability/Signal Stability – Because WiFi signals are transmitted via radio frequencies, they can be subject to interference by physical objects (such as tunnels or walls) or electrical devices. Because Ethernet data is transmitted over a dedicated cable, interference isn’t an issue.
  • Security – Ethernet connections offer greater security than WiFi. Because it is hardwired, data on an Ethernet network can’t be accessed unless a device is attached to it. Data transmitted by WiFi can be intercepted with greater ease because it travels through the air. Businesses, health care, legal, financial, and government entities put their information at greater risk by transmitting data over a wireless local area network (WLAN).
  • Mobility – There’s no beating WiFi for convenience and freedom of movement. WiFi users can move anywhere within range of a signal, free from the confines of an Ethernet cable. However, Ethernet users can transfer data up to 100 meters with Ethernet cables. Most routers already feature Ethernet ports, so it is easy to hardwire equipment even at home. 
  • Cost – WiFi can be cheaper if a user has their wireless devices close by and has enough speed to meet their needs. Ethernet users with more minor requirements can get away cheaply using one cable to their equipment. On the other hand, a business might require modems, firewalls, servers, switches, and a professional to install the whole works. Therefore, Ethernet can pose a much more significant investment. 
  • Available ports – Most desktop computers, laptops, smart TVs, and other entertainment devices are equipped with Ethernet ports, but that’s not always the case. If a user is intent on hardwiring their device, they may have to purchase an adapter, such as a USB-powered Wii LAN adapter. 

What Is the Ethernet: Advantages and Disadvantages

Installing Ethernet, WiFi, or both depends on what a user needs. Ethernet is the right direction for businesses and users who demand security, reliability, and performance. Residential users will find that Ethernet delivers an advantage for online gaming and smart televisions.

WiFi supports many more devices, and users are free of being tethered to a wire. It’s ideal for laptop computers, smartphones, and other portable devices.

So, while WiFi is making our world more interconnected and flexible, the Ethernet is still chugging along, playing an essential role in keeping critical data more secure and accessible when it’s needed.   

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