Your IP: Unknown · Your Status: ProtectedUnprotectedUnknown

Skip to main content

What is Ethernet? Definition, history, and uses

Ethernet is a technology of physically connecting several devices to form a wired network. It allows interlinked devices to share data quickly and securely, making it a popular option for businesses and offices. In this article, we’ll explore how Ethernet works and consider the pros and cons of using it.

What is Ethernet? Definition, history, and uses

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is Ethernet?

Ethernet is a networking technology that creates a physical network between several devices. It allows connected devices to communicate with and recognize each other by transferring data via physical Ethernet cables. Ethernet is primarily used to establish local area networks (LAN), but it can also be used in larger network configurations, such as metropolitan area networks (MAN) and, more rarely, wide area networks (WAN).

When connected using Ethernet, devices communicate using an Ethernet network protocol. This protocol defines the rules for both the physical and data link layers of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model and specifies how connected devices should format data for transmission to neighboring devices. Using the Ethernet protocol, each device can quickly recognize the data it needs to process.

How does Ethernet work?

Ethernet works according to specifications created by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). These specifications are known as the IEEE 802.3 standard or the Ethernet standard. According to these standards, Ethernet protocols primarily operate within the first two layers of the OSI model.

The first two layers of the OSI model are the physical layer (Layer 1) and the data link layer (Layer 2). The physical layer refers to the physical means by which raw data is transferred between two devices. In an Ethernet network, this raw data is transferred in the form of electrical signals via the Ethernet cable.

Each Ethernet packet starts with a preamble, which enables the receiving device to synchronize its clock with the transmitting device. These data packets also carry extra bytes of information that create the connection and identify the start of the frame. The Ethernet frame also includes a start frame delimiter (SFD) that marks the beginning of the frame.

These data packets are then sent from one device to another through the data link layer. The data link layer is responsible for framing, which involves packaging data into frames. This process makes transmitting data easier and faster. The data link layer can also create virtual local access networks (VLANs).

Frames contain the data payload, which is composed of bits. Frames also carry media access control (MAC address) and physical addresses for both transmitting and receiving devices. Frames include error correction data, which allows the system to identify and compensate for issues during data transmission.

This technology relies on physical connections between devices. Most devices, including laptops and routers, have Ethernet ports. These ports are connected to Ethernet cards that are part of the motherboard. If your device doesn’t have an integrated Ethernet port, you can use an Ethernet adapter instead. Attaching one of these adapters to the motherboard lets the device connect via an Ethernet cable.

Whether you use Ethernet ports or an adapter, you’ll need an Ethernet cable to connect the device to the network. Ethernet cables come in several types, but the most common are the twisted pair cables (Cat5e, Cat6), fiber optic cables, and in older installations, coaxial cables.

What is Ethernet used for?

The main use of Ethernet is to create a fast and efficient wired network between computers and other devices. As such, many businesses use this technology in their offices. Organizations that use LANs, such as hospitals and schools, use it to connect several devices. It is a popular choice for gamers and streamers due to its reliability and low latency.

This technology is also used to prevent data packet collisions. When two devices on the same network transmit data simultaneously, the data often becomes corrupted. Ethernet networks use carrier-sense multiple access with collision detection (CSMA/CD) to prevent these packet collisions. This process allows the Ethernet protocol to ensure the connection is free before allowing devices to transmit data packets.

If your local internet or Wi-Fi speed is low, Ethernet can provide faster speeds. The speed of a connection varies depending on which type of Ethernet you choose. The standard version of Ethernet, commonly referred to as 10BASE-T, has a top speed of 10 Mbps. The fastest version, Cat 8 Ethernet, has a top speed of 40 Gbps over short distances.

An Ethernet connection also provides a good balance between cost and performance. It is easy and cost-effective to install as most computers have Ethernet capability. Despite its price point, Ethernet provides enough speed for most users without needing a strong Wi-Fi signal.

Using Ethernet is more secure than relying on Wi-Fi, especially for businesses. Wi-Fi networks use radio signals that can be intercepted by someone near the hotspot. This means that Wi-Fi is more vulnerable to hackers. However, the data moving through an Ethernet cable can only be accessed by devices that are part of the LAN.

Pros and cons of Ethernet

While Ethernet does provide several benefits, it’s not suitable for every situation. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

Pros of Ethernet

  • pros
    Provides fast speeds. This type of connection provides faster speeds than most wireless connections. The fastest type of Ethernet has a top speed of 40Gbps.
  • pros
    Low-cost option. The installation process is pretty affordable. Most computers and routers have Ethernet ports. Ethernet cables are widely available and aren’t very expensive. The exact cost depends on how large you want your wired network to be.
  • pros
    Backwards compatibility. Newer types of Ethernet cables are backwards compatible with older components, even if they support different speeds. However, the total speed of the network is restricted by the slowest component.
  • pros
    Offers more security. A physical Ethernet connection offers more security than a wireless connection. Data sent through a cable can’t be intercepted wirelessly.
  • pros
    Provides reliable connections. Ethernet connections are more stable and reliable than wireless connections.

Cons of Ethernet

  • cons
    Physical limitations. This technology relies on physical cables, which creates limitations. For example, Ethernet cables come in different lengths. If the devices you want to connect are far apart, finding a long enough cable may be difficult.
  • cons
    Large networks cost more. The larger your Ethernet network is, the more it will cost to set up. Larger networks require more components like cables and Ethernet switches.
  • cons
    Cables can be damaged. Ethernet cables are pretty sturdy. However, they can still be damaged. If the cable is damaged, its accompanying device will no longer be connected to the larger network. These cables are vulnerable to water and temperature damage.
  • cons
    Unsuitable for certain applications. This technology may not be the best choice if you’re using interactive or real-time applications. Ethernet frames have a minimum size limit of 64 bytes. However, interactive and real-time applications need to send small amounts of data extremely quickly.
  • cons
    Difficult to troubleshoot. Troubleshooting problems with an Ethernet connection is difficult because the network relies on physical connections. To solve the issue, you’d need to test all the connections to find the faulty one.

Types of Ethernet

Ethernet has evolved a lot since its invention. As such, it comes in various types. Ethernet cables are also divided into several categories depending on their speed. Let’s take a look at some popular types of Ethernet.

  • Classic Ethernet. This type was pioneered in the 1980s. Now obsolete, Classic Ethernet achieved speeds of up to 10Mbps.
  • Fast Ethernet. It is the earliest and most popular form that is still in use. First introduced in 1995, Fast Ethernet achieves speeds of up to 100Mbps. It comes in fiber optic (100BASE-FX) and twisted pair (100BASE-TX) versions. The latter uses Cat 5 or Cat 5e cables.
  • Gigabit Ethernet. Introduced in 1999, it provides speeds of up to 1 Gbps. It comes in copper twisted pair versions like 1000BASE-T, which uses Cat 5 cables, and fiber optic versions like 1000BASE-X. Gigabit Ethernet may eventually replace Fast Ethernet as the most popular type.
  • 10 Gigabit Ethernet. First released in 2002, it provides speeds of up to 10 Gbps. Copper twisted pair versions require Cat 6a or Cat 7 cables. Fiber optic versions come in two types: single-mode fiber (SMF) and multi-mode fiber (MMF).
  • 40 Gigabit Ethernet. This version was first introduced in 2010. It is one of the fastest types of Ethernet. The 40GBASE-T twisted pair version requires Cat 8 cables and reaches speeds of 40 Gbps.

Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet

Ethernet and Wi-Fi allow users to connect devices to a network differently. However, both methods have various pros and cons. Let’s take a look at the differences between Ethernet and Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi is a type of wireless local area network (WLAN) and has quickly become the most common type of network connection. As such, Wi-Fi is more convenient and mobile. However, Wi-Fi networks can suffer from inconsistent speeds. Wi-Fi is also less secure because its wireless signals can be intercepted.

Unlike Wi-Fi, Ethernet relies on a physical cable to connect devices to the network. Although this allows for less flexibility than Wi-Fi, a physical connection is more secure. Ethernet networks do not need to be encrypted to keep them safe. A physical cable also means the speed is faster and more consistent than a wireless connection. Whether it is better than Wi-Fi depends on the context. Wi-Fi is typically better for home use and is essential if you’re using mobile devices. However, this technology may be a better option for businesses because it creates a fast, secure, and stable local network.

The history of Ethernet

One of the main uses of Ethernet is as a wired internet connection. As such, the development of Ethernet is an important part of the history of the internet.

In 1973, a team at Xerox PARC in California began developing the earliest form of Ethernet. In 1975, a group of engineers, including Robert Metcalfe and David Boggs, filed a patent. Their creation first appeared on the market in 1980. Soon after, the IEEE developed a set of standards, now known as IEEE 802.3 or the Ethernet standard.

Since its first appearance, this technology has evolved several times. The first version of Ethernet only managed speeds of 10Mbps. As cable technology improved, so did the maximum speed. Now, some commonly used types can reach speeds of around 40Gbps.

The future of Ethernet

Ethernet has evolved considerably since its introduction. For example, maximum speeds continue to climb as technology improves. Now, many large technology companies are developing Terabit Ethernet.

In 2017, the IEEE created the first set of specifications for this new wave of Ethernet. Standards for 200 Gigabit Ethernet and 400 Gigabit Ethernet are already in use. Now, even 800 Gigabit Ethernet is potentially achievable. So it’s fair to say that Ethernet is here to stay.