What is Ethernet and how does it work? Which type of Ethernet cable should I use? All these questions and more, answered below. Watch the videos or read the information below. Learn more about rural internet, what Ethernet is and what it can do for you or your network, at home or at your business.
What Is Ethernet?
In the below video from Sunny Sun find out what Ethernet is (also known as the IEEE 802.3 standard). Sunny is an Associate Professor of Cyber Security at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas. He teaches courses such as networking, cyber security, computer forensics and programming. In the below video, Sunny explains 7 key things about Ethernet, right down to where the name ‘Ethernet’ comes from.
Video transcript: Hello and this is Sunny. Welcome back. Today my topic is Ethernet. What is ether? Ether was once thought to be media carrying light throughout the universe.
Ethernet was named for IEEE 802.3 standards in a way that physical media could similarly carry data everywhere throughout the network. Ethernet refers to a family of a local area network technologies or LAN technologies that share some main features. The implementation of the network might be different. But the basic topology, frame type and network access method remain the same.
7 things you should know about Ethernet:
- Ethernet is a local area network (LAN) technology and is the most widely-installed LAN technology. Ethernet has largely replaced other competing LAN technologies such as Token Ring, FDDI and ARCNET.
- Ethernet technology operates at a both physical and a data link layer of the OSI model.
- Star-bus topology is a standard Ethernet topology.
- In terms of cabling, an Ethernet LAN typically uses a TCP/STP fiber optics and a coaxial cable.
- Ethernet media access method is CSMA/CD, e/212332weCarrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection.
- There are many versions of Ethernet speeds; 10 megabit, 100 megabit, 1 gigabit, 10 gigabit, 100 gigabit and even more.
- Last but not least, seven. Ethernet is a base band system.
Please check out my playlist “Ethernet Basics” if you want to know more about Ethernet and some concepts mentioned in this video.
How Does Ethernet Work?
The following animated video is from Janos Pasztor. Janos is a public speaker, trainer and author in IT. Janos explains how Ethernet works in a video which uses animations and simplifies some concepts, to provide an easier to understand guide.
Video transcript: So you have your home network with your computer, network-connected printer, smart appliances all connected to your router. Have you ever wondered how your computer knows to send your document to your printer and not your light bulb? Let’s take a look. Please note, this video simplifies some concepts for easier understanding. If you need an accurate documentation, please see the description below for links.
The internet is comprised of multiple layers and today we’re talking about one of the lowest ones, Ethernet. If you don’t know what this means, that’s fine. Just tag along and it will all become clear.
To understand how your local network works, we need to go back in time about 30 years. Back in those days, computing hardware was rather expensive. Instead of the current setup where we plug everything into one router, a much different system was in use. All network-connected hardware had to be linked up to one long coaxial cable. At any given time, only one device could send data over the network. So this system had to be designed around that.
When a computer wanted to send data, it first had to shout a special set of bits on the network, which basically equates to, “Everybody please be silent. I want to send something”. If two devices did this at the same time, they would detect this conflict and wait a random amount of time before trying again. This initial sequence of bits is called a “preamble”.
Once the device has successfully gotten their preamble out, they could then send data over the network. In order to ensure that every device gets a chance to send data, the amount of data they could send was limited. If they wanted to send more data, they would have to split it up into multiple pieces called “Ethernet frames” and send them one by one. To locate their target, every network device had a unique number called a “media access control address” or MAC for short.
MAC prefixes are assigned to hardware vendors and each network chip or card gets a globally unique address. These MAC addresses were used in Ethernet much like addresses are used on envelopes. After the preamble and the short pause called the “start frame delimiter,” devices had to send the MAC address of the target computer followed by their own MAC.
If they didn’t know the destination MAC or they wanted to send something to every machine on the network, they could use a special broadcast MAC of all Fs. This enabled machines to advertise services such as print availability or file shares to other devices.
Regardless of the destination MAC however, these Ethernet frames may in some cases be sent to all machines on the network. In other words, you cannot rely on the correct MAC address for security. This is true even with high end data center equipment. Following the MAC addresses, the Ethernet frame must also contain one more field called the “ethertype”. This field is a bit tricky because it can be used for two different purposes.
If the number in this field is 1500 or lower, it indicates the total length of the Ethernet frame. If it is 1536 or higher, it indicates the type of data contained within this Ethernet frame. Nowadays it is typically used to indicate the contents of the frame rather than the length.
After all this addressing information, we are now finally able to send some data over the network. On a typical setup, this information is limited to 1500 bytes, which is then followed by a so-called checksum. The checksum verifies that the contents of the frame have not been corrupted in transport. That’s it. The frame is now sent and after 12 bytes of silence, the race for the preambles can begin again and more data can be sent.
If you come back to the present, not much has changed. Sure, we have dedicated cables for our devices and we have smart switches and routers that can communicate with multiple devices at the same time. But the Ethernet protocol itself hasn’t changed much. Apart from some carrier-grade networks, we still use the same frame structure for our local communication.
If you want to take a look at Ethernet in action, I recommend you install a program called WireShark, which lets you look at the traffic on your own computer. As you may notice, Ethernet is a local network only protocol. It doesn’t provide us any means to communicate with devices outside our own environment. That is the task of IP, a protocol that sits on top of Ethernet, which we will discuss in another video. Thank you for watching. If you learned something today, feel free to like, share and subscribe and I will see you next time.
What Ethernet Cable To Use – Cat 5 Cat 6 Cat 7?
With so many options and category variants available, what Ethernet cable should you use? Below is a cable explainer from ThioJoe. Joe hosts one of the most popular technology explainer channels on YouTube, with more than 2.4 million subscribers. He takes a look through the options for Ethernet cables, from cat 5 through to cat 6 and 7.
Video transcript: If you’ve ever gone to buy an Ethernet cable for any reason, you may have noticed that there are several different types to choose from. Some of them may say Cat 5, Cat 5e, Cat 6, Cat 6a. But what do all of these mean and does it really make a difference which one you get?
Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. So you can know what’s worth buying and potentially save some money and also I’m going to go over a real world test to see how much of a difference it makes in your own home internet.
So first of all, what the heck do the cat ratings mean anyway? Well, for Ethernet cables, that stands for category and the different numbers represent different standards and specifications for each type of cable. So you can think of them like different versions. Now the good news is that all of these cables will typically “work” since the new versions are all backwards-compatible. They all use the same RJ-45 connector, often just called the Ethernet port. But the difference in the different ones are the rated performance of each.
The Different Types Of Ethernet Cable
So let’s go over all the different types of Ethernet cables you may come across from Cat 5 all the way through Cat 7 and beyond. The first type is really common which you probably already heard of. It’s called Cat 5. However these days, when someone says “Cat 5,” they’re probably referring to the newer version of Cat 5e, but we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves with that.
Now a true Cat 5 cable is actually obsolete and you probably can’t even buy them anymore. A Cat 5 cable is only rated for up to 100 megabits per second at 100-meter maximum length and that’s with a 100 megahertz bandwidth.
So obviously only being rated for 100 megabits, you’re almost never going to see these anymore because usually one gigabit is kind of the minimum and if you’re still using one, you should definitely replace it. Because in addition to having a slower speed, it also might be less reliable than the new types we’re going to talk about in a second and this brings us to Cat 5e which I just mentioned and the Cat 5e stands for category five “enhanced”.
So Cat 5e is very common these days and it’s rated for one gigabit speeds at 100 meters as opposed to the original one. It’s just 100 megabit and again this has a bandwidth of 100 megahertz and this is due to the improved specs regarding twisting of the wire pairs inside, shielding and other improvements which reduce “cross talk” or the interference of the different signals, which would reduce the speed. Also a regular Cat 5 cable only required two twisted pairs of wires inside while Cat 5e uses four. So obviously it can transfer more data. A Cat 5 cable may have had four but it only required two.
So an important thing to note is that the ratings certifications are for the bare minimum specs. So it’s very possible that a cable will be capable of much more than what it’s rated for. So for example a Cat 5 cables might actually be capable of close to gigabit speeds if it’s a really high quality premium cable even though it’s older and the same will go for all of these other types. It’s just the rating is basically a guarantee. After Cat 5e came Category 6, which bumped the spec from one gigabit to ten gigabit at 55-meter length and with a bandwidth of 250 megahertz up from 100.
By the way, the bandwidth refers to the range of frequencies that the cable is able to reliably use, which explains why it would improve the speed. It has got more “space” to fit the data in a way and the Cat 6 further reduces cross talk. That’s kind of the main way to improve the speed in addition to the bandwidth using tighter wound wire pairs and may also use things like a plastic core through the middle of the cable to better separate the internal wires and things like that.
I would say Cat 6 is a good choice if you’re really not sure what type of cable you’re going to need since it probably won’t be that much more expensive depending on where you buy it and it will future-proof your cable for a while. You will probably be able to use it for the near future.
But this is especially important if the wire can’t easily be replaced. Like if you’re wiring a house for example where it would just be in the walls forever, I would definitely get at least Cat 6, probably even one of the higher-rated ones we’re about to talk about.
But if you’re just buying a general purpose Ethernet cable for your laptop or something, Cat 5e would definitely be fine as well since I doubt any of your devices right now are going to be capable of 10 gig anyway. So Cat 5e, Cat 5, 6, whatever you want. So by now you might be thinking, “OK. Surely Cat 6 is pretty much the best. I mean why would you need anything more than 10 gigabit, right?”
Well, you might be right but we’re not going to stop there. What fun would that be? Because there’s also a Cat 6a and this is one is also capable of 10 gigabit but at a longer maximum distance of 100 meters instead of 55 and it has a larger 500 megahertz bandwidth. So if you are actually creating a 10-gig network, Cat 6a will be more reliable at getting your full speed since again it has got further improved specs for reducing that cross talk. It’s just going to be more reliable.
Now finally the big daddy of the Ethernet cables for now at least is Category 7. As far as I could tell, this is the fastest type you can buy at the moment. There are other cables that like claim to be Category 8 but I don’t think they truly are. Cat 7 is also ready for 10 gigabit speeds but with a higher bandwidth of 600 megahertz, even larger than the 500, and it has got the strictest specifications for reducing cross talk such as requiring shielding between individual wire pairs in the cable as well as for the whole cable itself.
This seems to be all about improving reliability. Not necessarily the speed since it doesn’t actually improve anything about 10 gigabit, even though it probably is capable of higher speeds if you had a switch that was capable of faster than 10 gigabit on that side.
So I think Cat 7 might be best suited for extreme future-proofing, permanent wire installations for people who are not just satisfied with the best but rather want the completely unnecessary. So if you’re wiring a house and you just want to go all out, get Cat 7. All right. So we’ve learned that there are tons of different Ethernet cables you can use. But does it even really matter? I wanted to find out. So I decided to do a quick real life test.
I got three different cables, a Cat 5e, a Cat 6 and even a Cat 7, all the same five-foot length and I wanted to find out if it would make a difference when I used it with a gigabit internet connection since that’s really the fastest internet you’re going to get right now anyway. And yeah, I know I could have done a logo gigabit test but I wanted to do it this way. It’s a little bit more practical I think.
So for this, I’m simply going to connect my laptop directly to the router using each cable and to make sure there’s no limiting factors, I have the router connected to the fiber optic intake with the Cat 7 cable, so there’s no limiting agent there.
So Which Ethernet Cable Is Best?
Just looking at the three cables I used here for the test, this is the Cat 5e. It’s definitely the thinnest. Although it’s not flimsy or anything. Then the black one is the Cat 6, definitely a little bit thicker and then of course the Cat 7, there are some noticeable differences. It’s very rigid. You can tell there’s a lot more shielding in here and it has got a metal connector. So definitely way higher construction quality.
So I went and did all that. And what was the difference? Well, none at all. As I pretty much expected, with such a short distance at only five feet, all the cables were more than capable of handling the gigabit connection. I had also tested the upload speed but it was very inconsistent even between tests of the same type of cable. So I just didn’t consider that in this one.
Then out of curiosity, I did a speed test on my desktop which is plugged into the port in the wall. So in that test, I would guess it had maybe an extra 50 feet of Cat 6 cable to deal with, as opposed to the other control test, and the speed only dropped less than 10 megabits. So even with about 50 feet of Cat 6, the loss was less than one percent of the speed. So really it’s not that big a deal.
So the takeaway here is that unless you need to worry about future-proofing your connection, it really doesn’t matter what type of cable you buy. Perhaps if you have tons and tons of cables right next to each other, it’s like really electronically noisy or something and you need that shielding. The improved shielding on the better categories might help you. But in all other cases, it really shouldn’t matter at all.
Now after looking at all this, you may be wondering, “What’s the point of all these other cables if you can’t even really use them, if it doesn’t make that big of a difference in most situations?” Well, part of it is marketing since it’s easy to say you need the better cable with the higher number, which of course costs more. But there is networking hardware out there that is capable of 10 gig internet. It’s usually commercial equipment though.
However, we are starting to see some 10 gigabit consumer-grade switches out there. For example, there’s the new Asus XG-U2008 switch, which has two 10-gigabit ports. It’s only about $250, much less than what you would spend on an enterprise switch, along with a regular gigabit port.
So you could hook up your computer and maybe a network storage device to the 10-gig port. Then everything else would go into the regular gigabit ones. That way, even if none of the other devices on the network are capable of 10 gigabit, it would allow multiple one-gigabit data transfers to multiple devices simultaneously.
So the 10-gigabit NAS or storage server will be able to provide out that 10 gigabit and then it could kind of be leeched off by as many devices as you want or of course you could do a full 10-gigabit transfer between the two devices plugged in. So between the server and your computer, if they’re both plugged into that other port.
In that sort of situation though where you do have 10-gigabit capability, you would need Cat 6 or higher at least for those two 10-gigabit ports and if it’s over any kind of distance, Cat 6a would be ideal because you’re going to get that better reliability. Even if it’s not that big of a difference, you still may as well. But something tells me that not too many people are going to be using 10 gigabit for a while. So I guess from all this, my takeaway is that even the old Ethernet standards have held up surprisingly well. I mean believe it or not, the RJ-45 connector used in all these Ethernet cables was first standardized in 1987. At that time, the minimum spec was only three kilohertz bandwidth and now it’s getting into the gigahertz.
So I think it’s safe to say that the connector will probably be here for a while. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon since it seems like there’s still a lot of room for expansion. We might even see 100 gigabit. Who knows?
So I think that is it. Hopefully guys, you thought this video was pretty cool and interesting. I would love to hear what you think down the comments section. Are you still using old Cat 5 cables you didn’t really know about? It usually says it printed on the side if you’re not sure. Or do you need that full 10 gig speed? I don’t know.
I myself kind of went crazy recently. I bought a bunch of Cat 6 and Cat 7 cables since I could never seem to find any Ethernet cables when I needed them. So I’m like, “May as well get the best,” and I’m actually using the Cat 7 cables to connect all the most important stuff in my network like the router and the switches hooked up to it for a maximum performance just in case. You know, even if it doesn’t make that big of a difference, I want to have the best and remove all doubt where it might matter.
But anyway, if you guys did enjoy this video, be sure to give it a thumbs-up. I would appreciate it and if you want to keep watching, I will put some other videos right here. You can click on these even if you’re on a phone and if you want to subscribe, I make new videos every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and also consider clicking the bell next to the subscribe button for notifications or else YouTube might not even show you the new videos at all.
So thanks again for watching guys. I’m looking forward to hearing from you and as usual, I will see you next time. Have a good one.
Why Is WiFi Slower Than Ethernet?
High speed WiFi services such as WiFi 6 are now possible today, with compatible hardware now rolling out. But wireless is never going to beat wired for speeds. Linus over at the Tech Quickie channel created a video to explain why an Ethernet connection via a cable, will almost always be faster than a WiFi connection.
Video transcript: Thanks for watching Techquickie. Click the “Subscribe” button. Then enable notifications with the bell icon, so you won’t miss any future videos. So picture this. You just wired your desktop PC up to some uber fast internet connection which is like super exciting because surely this will be no more lagging out of your favorite game or thrilling Skype dates. Then eager to experience this kind of speed on your laptop or mobile device, you buy a fancy-looking WiFi router. You key in your password and – wait, what? Your speeds aren’t even half of what you’re getting with the wired connection. What gives?
Well, unfortunately, wireless is pretty much always going to be slower than wired. It’s a near universal truth that becomes more and more obvious the faster you try to go, even if you spend tons of money on high-end wireless gear. But then – OK, now bear with me here, because EM waves do move faster through the air than electrons do through a wire. So what is it? Well, let’s start with the most obvious, signal range.
If you’re using an Ethernet cable and you want gigabit speeds, you can have a cable run of up to 100 meters. That’s roughly as long as a football field. This is because the signal inside the cable doesn’t deteriorate appreciably until you have a longer cable run.
But radio signals flying through the air such as WiFi are much more prone to signal degradation. Unlike a physical cable which has a copper wire inside that only carries network traffic and is wrapped up in materials to shield the signal from interference, WiFi signals are just blasted everywhere, meaning they have to compete with walls, your roommate’s microwave and other network traffic.
You see, unlike Ethernet where your device gets one dedicated pipe that runs to your modem or your router, there’s only so much spectrum available for your WiFi enabled laptop and your phone and anything else. What that means is that your device will often be broadcasting on the same frequency or channel as others, which can lead to more interference that can further degrade the signal and give your router more work to do to sort it all out.
But OK, hold on a second Linus. You can hook up lots of wired devices to a router as well. So doesn’t your router have to figure out where all those different signals are supposed to go? Yes. But WiFi and Ethernet have different strategies to combat packet loss, which is exactly what it sounds like, when a chunk or a packet of data doesn’t reach its destination.
Oftentimes this can occur due to a collision, when two devices try to transmit it at precisely the same time. If this happens, the packets have to be resent. So the way that an Ethernet connection avoids collisions is that once the sender determines that its path to the destination is clear, it sends the packet immediately. If the path is busy, the sender will send the data as soon as the path is clear again. WiFi on the other hand introduces a small delay once the path becomes clear.
The idea is that since a wireless router can’t magically detect a collision in midair, this delay reduces the risk of collisions. But as it does so, it also adds more latency. And although many leaps in WiFi technology have been made over the years, it still resembles much older school communications protocols in one important way. It is half-duplex, meaning that a WiFi gadget’s antenna can only be sending or receiving at any given moment, not both.
Now full duplex wireless is in the works but it’s still experimental and suffers from its own special kind of interference that results from the antenna trying to deal with both inbound and outbound signals at the same time. By contrast, Ethernet has been full duplex for quite some time now as it’s not difficult to simply put one wire in for transmitting data and another one for receiving it on the same cable.
So all other things being equal, don’t be surprised if your Wi-Fi connection always seems just a bit slower even if you do walk around with your smartphone neurotically duct-taped directly to a router.
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