Ethernet Standards

Ethernet networks have been around for quite some time now.

We all expect our laptops and PCs to be manufactured with an ethernet port. Lately it has become the norm for our TVs, Hi-Fis, games consoles, and even kitchen appliances to be fitted with an ethernet port!

It is via a connection to this port that we are able to connect our machines to the network, and then onwards to the world wide web.

We have become reliant upon these connections for our broadband access to the internet, to surf the web and to collect our email. Furthermore, in the IT sector we accept it as the norm that we can share machines and data using such a network; we print to remote printers, and we might save our data on a hard drive on a remote machine or server.

It is therefore simply a logical progression of this which finds IP cameras and other peripheral devices becoming available for simple connection to these ethernet networks.

As with all things IT the speed of the network has increased steadily over time.

In ethernet terms we call this speed (or capability to handle data traffic quickly), the network's bandwidth.

When PCs were first connected together in offices about 20 years ago they used a co-axial network cable which ran from machine to machine in a peer-to-peer manner and had a maximum throughput rate of 10 megabits per second.

That early co-ax network cable was fairly quickly replaced by what has become the ubiquitous cat5 network cable. cat5 cable contains 4 sets of twisted-pairs. Generally a pair is used to transmit the data, and another pair is used to receive the data (the other pairs are normally spare, but we'll talk about uses for those when we discuss Power Over Ethernet (POE) in a separate article.

The network hardware devices (hubs & switches) were soon improved and developed to perform better with this new twisted-pair cabling, and as a result the network bandwidth was readily increased from 10 megabits per second to 100mbps.

From about 2007 cost-effective gigabit network switches became available, and it was simply a matter of replacing the hubs and switches in the network to achieve this further boost in bandwidth - up to 1,000mbps (or 1gigabit per second).

Further increases to a bandwidth of 10 gbps are already possible, but this is still quite demanding technology requiring special cable, shorter runs, etc.

You may also come across the term of reference BASE-T when discussing network bandwidth. Put simply:
10 BASE-T = 10 megabits per second
100 BASE-T = 100 mbps
1000 BASE-T = 1gbps

Good networks are vital to good system performance. Most large premises will have a specialist network engineer to manage the design, growth, balance and upkeep of their network.