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What is Ethernet?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Ethernet is a standard communications protocol embedded in software and hardware devices, intended for building a local area network (LAN). It was designed by Bob Metcalfe in 1973, and through the efforts of Digital, Intel and Xerox (for which Metcalfe worked), "DIX" Ethernet became the standard model for LANs worldwide.

A basic hard-wired LAN consists of the following components:

  • Two or more computers to be linked together, or networked.
  • A network interface card (NIC) in each computer.
  • Ethernet cable to connect to each computer.
  • A networking switch or networking hub to direct network traffic.
  • Networking software.

A NIC is installed in each computer and is assigned a unique address. An Ethernet cable runs from each NIC to the central switch or hub. The switch or hub will act as a relay (though they have significant differences in how they handle network traffic), receiving and directing packets of data across the LAN. This type of networking, therefore, creates a communications system that allows the sharing of data and resources, including printers, fax machines and scanners.

These networks can also be wireless. Rather than using a cable to connect the computers, wireless NICs use radio waves for two-way communication with a wireless switch or hub. In lieu of Ethernet ports, wireless NICs, switches, and hubs each feature a small antenna. Wireless networks can be more flexible to use, but also require extra care in configuring security.

Alternate technologies include the passe "Token Ring" protocol designed by IBM, and the far newer asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) technology. ATM allows devices to be connected over very wide distances to create WANs (wide area networks) that behave like LANs. For an inexpensive network located in a single building, however, Ethernet is a well-established standard with a solid record, boasting over three decades of providing reliable networking environments.

The formal designation for standardization of the Ethernet protocol is sometimes referred to as IEEE 802.3. The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) proposed a working group in February 1980 — accounting for the designation [19]80 2[nd month] — to standardize network protocols. The third subcommittee worked on a flavor essentially identical to Ethernet, though there are insignificant variances. Consequently, generic use of the term might refer to IEEE 802.3 or DIX.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon175578 — On May 13, 2011

I have a satellite receiver which will show certain programs from the internet via an ethernet connection,

so I have set up the laptop connected to the internet by wifi, and joined it to the satellite receiver by an ethernet cable and the indicator lights come up on both devices. The satellite receiver says not connected. why? and is there anything to be done?

By anon139593 — On Jan 05, 2011

I have a Hp intel pentium 4 server now the previous owners have installed broadcom Netxtreme Ethernet management on here, I would like to upgrade to windows 7, I have checked on the windows upgrade advisor, and that's the only thing that needs to be removed. everything else is compatible. How do i uninstall the broadcom ethernet without disrupting any files? --clueless

By anon137460 — On Dec 27, 2010

You can also include some matter about Ethernet crossover Cable. Yet, well done. -Shini S.

By anon95509 — On Jul 12, 2010

information in this article are very much helpful, not only for the students but also for the people who are interested in knowing more about dealing with computers! Good job! -TMC//BSIT-3

By anon90549 — On Jun 16, 2010

To Joe: I think it is an RJ48, possibly an RJ48C, for a T1 it is wired White/Blue receive one/two skip 3 and White/Orange Transmit four and five.

By anon86868 — On May 27, 2010

written very clearly. Nice article. Keep it up.

By anon83226 — On May 10, 2010

excellent and simple information. easy to understand

By anon77203 — On Apr 13, 2010

short and sweet explanation that helped me to understand.

By anon76577 — On Apr 11, 2010

simple information which beginners can understand. nice one.

By anon75536 — On Apr 06, 2010

knowledgeable information. thank you.

By anon58945 — On Jan 05, 2010

nice article. thanks for such good information.

By anon42075 — On Aug 19, 2009

can nets/vsta telephone line connect to adsl?

By anon41442 — On Aug 15, 2009

good article. gives a lot information. thank you.

By averagejoe — On Jul 02, 2008

The end of an ethernet cable has a jack that looks much like a phone jack only it is a little wider - more like a rectangle than a phone jack's sort of square shape.

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