Ethernet connections send data between devices on a Wide Area Network (WAN) or a Local Area Network (LAN). These connections are made using a physical wire and the Ethernet protocol. The protocol defines how information is shared over Ethernet.
Wi-Fi is not the only method you can use give your computer online access. There’s also Ethernet. You must be physically connected to a network to use Ethernet.
Ethernet is a technology that’s used to connect devices in a local area network (LAN) or a wide area network (WAN). In this guide, we’re going to discuss the basics of Ethernet, how it works, and delve into the purpose of an Ethernet cable. Let’s begin!
What is a LAN?
Local Area Networks (LANs) commonly use Ethernet. LANs a type of network where a group of computers shares a wired or wireless link to a server within a particular area. A LAN may consist of a few computers in your home, or hundreds of computers at a company’s main office.
At home, you’ll use a LAN to connect different internet-powered devices to each other. Your printer, for instance, will be connected through a LAN to your computer. The LAN acts as a bridge between your devices so that you can access them all through your network.
What is Ethernet?
Ethernet lets you send data over a Local Area Network or a Wide Area Network. An Ethernet connection is made using a physical cable. Ethernet connections can only be made between devices in proximity.
Ethernet is commonly used in networks where location is a factor. That’s why Ethernet has become so important in LAN networks: this type of network is geographically-constrained. A LAN network resides in one location, whether that’s a library, an office, or your home.
You’ve perhaps heard of the term “LAN party” in gaming. When you set up computers for a LAN party, they are all connected to the same network using Ethernet. This allows you to play on a local server that only you can access because everyone is connected to each other.
If you go to work as a network administrator, Ethernet cables will be part of your day-to-day job. Even if you don’t work in tech, you’ll probably use Ethernet cables somewhere at home.
Why is Ethernet Used?
Ethernet connectivity is used because it is less vulnerable to outages. Wireless technologies are susceptible to connectivity problems, especially when devices start to get further away from the router to which they are connected. Ethernet offers a more stable connection because there is a physical link between a computer and a wireless network.
Ethernet is more secure than wireless technologies. Most wireless internet connections are secure, but there are ways to manipulate them. Ethernet connections have to be made using cables. This means that an attacker would have to physically access a cable in order to gain access to a network.
Ethernet has been able to deliver consistently high levels of performance. Originally, Ethernet was capable of transmitting 10 megabits per second. That increased by a factor of 10 in the 90s alone. Today, Ethernet connections can support connections of dozens of gigabits per second. You’ll often hear people now talk about “gigabit Ethernet” for that reason, which is a very fast Ethernet connection.
This performance benefit has been even more significant given the relatively low cost of Ethernet. Depending on the cables you purchase, the price of setting up Ethernet in a network can be very low. When you consider the amount that companies charge for wireless tools, it’s clear that in many cases Ethernet is the more affordable option.
While wireless has become more and more important – especially with the rise of mobile devices – Ethernet has never let the world down.
What Are the Limitations of Ethernet?
It’s not all bells-and-whistles: Ethernet does have a few disadvantages.
Ethernet’s main drawback is that it is intended for networks with devices that are connected over a short distance. It would be impractical for a company to use Ethernet to connect devices that are far outside their offices. For instance, you would probably not use Ethernet to power a device that is in a parking lot.
The speed of an Ethernet connection is affected by how much traffic is going over the network. Many people using the same network at the same time may make the Ethernet speed decrease.
Ethernet vs. Wi-Fi
Ethernet is more reliable than traditional Wi-Fi. This is because Ethernet makes a direct connection between two devices. Ethernet is limited by the length of a cable. Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is limited by the range of the signal. This range tends to be larger than the range of most Ethernet cables.
There’s no denying that Wi-Fi is the most popular way in which devices connect to the internet. It’s no surprise because Ethernet cables are quite bulky. Your phone would have to be about 10 centimeters thick to support an Ethernet connection. With that said, Ethernet does still have its advantages, as we’ve discussed earlier.
The main difference between Ethernet and Wi-Fi is that Ethernet data transfers through physical cable, whereas Wi-Fi connections transmit data through wireless signals.
Arguably the main benefit of Wi-Fi is that it provides good mobility. You can move anywhere within a certain distance without having to drag a cable along with you.
Ethernet connections provide more speed and reliability than a Wi-Fi connection. Whereas a Wi-Fi connection can be easily lost, Ethernet cables are more dependable. This is because you are plugged directly into a network.
Wi-Fi connections are prone to picking up interference. This can make Wi-FI less reliable. At home, some interference may not be a problem. In an enterprise setting, having a reliable network connection can be essential in maintaining operations.
What is an Ethernet Cable?
Ethernet wouldn’t work without cables. It’s a wired technology! An Ethernet cable is a special type of computer networking cable that connects network devices to a network. Most often, you’ll find that an Ethernet cable is plugged into a router, a modem, or a network switch through an Ethernet port.
Ethernet cables resemble a phone cable. If you compared them side-by-side, you’d notice their similarities.
Ethernet cables have eight wires, whereas phone cables only have four. As a result, Ethernet cables are larger. In addition, Ethernet cables can come in a range of colors, whereas phone cables are usually white or gray.
There are two main types of Ethernet cables that are used today: Category 5 and Category 6.
Category 5, or CAT5, cables are capable of supporting speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. These cables cannot be used to transmit data any more than 328 feet (ca. 100 m).
Category 6, or CAT6, cables are the sixth generation of Ethernet. This cable is capable of supporting data rates of around 1 gigabit per second. CAT6 cables, however, can only transmit data for around 164 feet (ca. 50 m).
What is Power over Ethernet (PoE)?
Power over Ethernet (PoE) lets Ethernet cables send power to a networked device. Power is transmitted through the data connection between two devices.
PoE lets you use one cable to send electrical power and data to a networked device. This helps you keep your cables clean. You don’t need to route two separate cables to power a device and send data.
What’s more, PoE lets you place devices away from power outlets. Using PoE, you do not need to place devices within range of a power socket. You only need to be in range of a device that is capable of sending data over a power supply.
PoE devices are capable of supplying up to 15.4 watts per port. This is enough to power a number of small electrical devices. For larger devices, you’ll need to use a traditional power source.
Ethernet connects devices on a local area network or a wide area network. Unlike Wi-FI, Ethernet connections are physical. You need to use an Ethernet cable to make a connection between two devices.
Ethernet is used in places from homes to corporate offices to hospitals. In all these environments, there are typically multiple devices on the same network that want to speak to each other.
Ethernet provides a reliable and stable connection, unlike wireless technology. Wireless tech is prone to interference. It can be unstable depending on your distance from a router.
In order to use Ethernet, you need to plug an Ethernet cable into your device. This is not practical on many modern devices today that only support wireless technology.
To learn more about Ethernet and networking, read our guide on the best networking security boot camps.