Ethernet technology represents the earliest and most basic technique for building a LAN (Local Area Network) in a small office or residence. The basic principle of Ethernet installation is a wired connection between a NIC (network interface controller, sometimes called a LAN adapter) connected to each computer or peripheral device (like a hard drive, printer, fax or scanner) to a central hub, router or switching device by an Ethernet cable. The hub acts as a relay directing communications through the network in response to instructions encoded in the data packages sent by the computer. The NIC assigns an address to each device in the network so the hub knows where to direct the data. Ethernet technology has grown so popular that most new computers are constructed to include the LAN adapter right on the computer’s motherboard. It is rarely necessary to buy one separately.
Most modern routers or hubs include a limited number of Ethernet connections. However, a LAN network can work with branched routers and hubs to include essentially as many devices as you might want.
This wired network enables all the computers to exchange data freely among them once all computers are software enabled to do so. The operating system (Windows, Mac, and others) will have provisions for setting up LANs. Each computer can be set to permit others in the network to see specified files and folders. Networked devices including peripherals are addressable and can be shared.
The virtue of the Ethernet network is that it is completely secure and private, isolated from the wide area network with its risk of hacking and data privacy violation from outside. In some cases, a wireless LAN can be set up using small radio transmitters and receivers instead of Ethernet cables. Special LAN adapters are also available to adapt electrical wiring or telephone wiring to modulate signals instead of Ethernet cables. In some networks, fiber-optic cables are used instead of cables carrying electric current. With appropriate adaptation, fiber-optic cables can allow for faster data transmission and wider bandwidth than conventional cables.
There are some limits to Ethernet-based LANs. First of all, signal strength in the cables decreases with resistance in the wires and that is a function of the length of the cables. As signal strength drops, outside interference and “static” from other signal generators become a significant source of signal degradation.
Experts state that the maximum cable length for an Ethernet cable is around 300 feet between computer and hub. This substantially limits the extent of Ethernet LANs in larger offices. Fiber-optic cables can increase this range.
Wireless Ethernet networks may also be somewhat larger. However, wireless networks are much more subject to interception and data theft than private wired networks. In a way, wireless Ethernet defeats a lot of what the Ethernet is really good for. The range of the wireless transmitter may well go beyond the confines of an office so that signals can be picked up by people outside the network. The use of software blocks like firewalls may be required. But these get very cumbersome.
The Ethernet system and hub-based networking have been around almost as long as practical microcomputers. In a way, the LAN idea was behind the development of the internet itself. Even today, IT scientists and engineers continue to work to improve Ethernet systems.
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