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Ethernet Tutorial

Types of Ethernet - Traditional, Fast, and Gigabit
An Article by your Guide Bradley Mitchell

Types of Ethernet
Often referred to as Thicknet, 10Base5 was the first incarnation of Ethernet technology. The industry used Thicknet in the 1980s until 10Base2 Thinnet appeared. Compared to Thicknet, Thinnet offered the advantage of thinner (5 millimeters vs 10 millimeters) and more flexible cabling, making it easier to wire office buildings for Ethernet.
 More of this Feature
• Part 1 - Introduction
• Part 2 - Types of Ethernet
• Part 3 - Ethernet Protocols and Devices
 Related Resources
• Which is Better, Solid or Stranded CAT5?
• Ethernet Resource Listing
• Introduction to OSI Model
 Elsewhere on the Web
• Ethernet Physical Layer Specifications

The most common form of traditional Ethernet, however, is 10Base-T. 10Base-T offers better electrical properties than Thicknet or Thinnet, because 10Base-T cables utilize unshielded twisted pair (UTP) wiring rather than coaxial. 10Base-T also proved more cost effective than alternatives like fiber optic cabling.

The table below details these traditional Ethernet technologies. Besides the type of cable involved, another important aspect of Ethernet networking is the segment length. A segment is a network connection made by a single unbroken network cable. Ethernet cables and segments can only span a limited physical distance, after which transmissions will likely fail due to line noise, reduced signal strength and other degredation. Per the Ethernet specifications, manufacturers of Ethernet equipment must meet the below minimum specifications for segment length.

NameSegment Length (Max.)Cable
10Base5500m / 1640ft.RG-8 or RG-11 coaxial
10Base2185m / 606ft.RG 58 A/U or RG 58 C/U coaxial
10Base-T100m / 328ft.Category 3 or better unshielded twisted pair

Numerous other lesser-known Ethernet standards exist, including 10Base-FL, 10Base-FB, and 10Base-FP for fiber optic networks and 10Broad36 for broadband (cable television) cabling.

Fast Ethernet
In the mid-1990s, Fast Ethernet technology matured and met its design goals of a) increasing the performance of traditional Ethernet while b) avoiding the need to completely re-cable existing Ethernet networks. Fast Ethernet comes in two major varieties:
  • 100Base-T (using unshielded twisted pair cable)
  • 100Base-FX (using fiber optic cable)

By far the most popular of these is 100Base-T, a standard that includes 100Base-TX (Category 5 UTP), 100Base-T2 (Category 3 or better UTP), and 100Base-T4 (100Base-T2 cabling modified to include two additional wire pairs).

Gigabit Ethernet
Wheareas Fast Ethernet improved traditional Ethernet from 10 Megabit to 100 Megabit speed, Gigabit Ethernet boasts the same order-of-magnitude improvement over Fast Ethernet by offering speeds of 1000 Megabits (1 Gigabit). Gigabit Ethernet was first made to travel over optical and copper cabling, but the 1000Base-T standard successfully supports it as well. 1000Base-T uses Category 5 cabling similar to 100 Mbps Ethernet, although achieving gigabit speed requires the use of additional wire pairs.

Next page > Ethernet Topology, Protocol, and Devices > Page 1, 2, 3

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