What is Ethernet?

What is Ethernet - Cable

Find out what Ethernet is and the benefits a dedicated connection could offer your business.

Ethernet is a system which allows individual computers to communicate with each other and is the most commonly used local area networking (LAN) technology, so if you use a computer on an office network it’s almost certainly communicating via Ethernet.

What is Ethernet?

Ethernet is what is known as a ‘link layer protocol’ that works in conjunction with Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP). It describes how devices should format data for transmission and how that data should then be sent over the network.

Ethernet comprises two elements, a ‘frame’ and a ‘packet’. The frame contains and defines the data that is being transmitted and will include the addresses of the sending and receiving systems, quality of service (QoS) information and error correction information to spot problems in transmission.

What is Ethernet - Ethernet HubEach frame is contained in a packet which tags on additional information used to establish a connection. Think of it like sending parcels through the post; the frame refers to the item ordered and the despatch note, and the packet is the container it’s sent in plus the address label.

While it’s possible to have an Ethernet with just two linked computers, most larger networks use a device called a switch which directs the packets of data to their correct destinations.

Originally, Ethernet networks were designed to run using a co-axial cable – think old style TV aerial leads. But nowadays, it is more common for infrastructures to use twisted pair cables which have the advantage of being able to share wiring with a telephone system; it’s essentially the same system used to transmit data to and from your service provider, so the world is your Ethernet.

The internet

Ethernet is now widely used by businesses to connect to the internet, as well as being used in wide area networks (WANs) to connect multiple sites and unlike broadband, this gives you a dedicated connection which isn’t subject to many of the drawbacks of conventional broadband systems such as contention, restricted upload speeds and buffering. Whilst Ethernet speeds may not be any faster than fibre broadband in terms of megabits per second (Mbps), it offers a number of key advantages that make it a popular choice for business users.

Firstly, it’s a dedicated link, so there’s no contention with other users and it won’t slow down at peak times. Secondly, where broadband is asynchronous (it downloads faster than it uploads) Ethernet is synchronous (same speed in both directions). This is a particular advantage for businesses who use cloud-based services and require a reliable flow of information in both directions.

Thirdly, because it’s a business-focused product, Ethernet offers you guaranteed speeds enshrined within a service level agreement (SLA). This means that you will always get the speeds needed to keep your business running smoothly, as well as a fast resolution of any issues that arise.

How is Ethernet delivered to your premises?

Many Ethernet internet connections use Ethernet over Fibre to the Cabinet (EoFTTC) connections, where a fibre connection from the internet service provider (ISP) arrives at a street cabinet to then be distributed to your premises.

Where fibre connections are not readily available, it is still possible to benefit from Ethernet’s capabilities via Ethernet First Mile (EFM) technology. This uses twisted pair cabling combined with signal processing technology to offer fast speeds over a copper circuit.

It’s also possible to have a direct fibre connection to your premises. This offers the fastest connection speeds but at the expense of longer lead times to have the circuit installed.

Business benefits

We’ve already touched on the benefits of Ethernet for cloud users. Businesses today are becoming more and more reliant on the cloud for both, storage and for the use of as-a-service software. Of course, if you’re relying on the cloud for the day-to-day running of your business, then you need a fast and reliable connection. Ethernet connections deliver this in a way that broadband can’t, thanks to synchronous speeds and dedicated, secure connections.

What is Ethernet - VoIPInternet protocol (IP) telephony is another area that many business users are now turning to, thanks to lower calling costs and flexibility. But of course using VoIP requires a reliable fast connection and here, again, Ethernet offers a competitive advantage. You can use traffic management features to prioritise traffic to ensure that calls and data traffic aren’t competing for bandwidth, so everyone continues to work smoothly.

As companies become more used to flexible working due to factors such as operating across multiple sites, or home workers, tools like video conferencing become more important as they allow teams to keep in touch and help reduce overheads. Here again, an Ethernet connection can deliver the speed and reliability needed to make video conferencing technology work for your needs.

As a business, you want to be sure the tools you use are up to the job. With an Ethernet connection, your service will be backed by an SLA that is enterprise-focused. This means that you can be sure of reliability and speeds and that you will have any problems fixed quickly with minimal disruption to your operations.

The question you need to be asking is not whether Ethernet is worth it, but whether you can afford to be without it.

Walter Rossi

About Walter Rossi

Walter Rossi was formerly the Product Director for WAN & SD-WAN at Daisy Group. He left the company in 2018 for pastures new.