In order to set up a network, there are a number of devices that can be used to allow devices to communicate. The hardware within a LAN (Local Area Network) must do more than transmit data, but provide security for the data on the network.
Hardware within a network, includes the types of calble which are often referred to as the ‘media’. There are benefits and drawbacks to each type which allow us to make a judgement on which is best suited to a specific purpose.
Within the LAN, a choice can be made to use wired connections, wireless connections, or a mixture of both. Common wired connections include Ethernet, Coaxial, and Fibre Optic.
Ethernet is the most common type of cable in a LAN. This is mainly because it is cheap, and easy to install. Because ethernet uses coppor wires to transmit the data, it is easy to bend and manipulate, and has the added benefit of being particularly robust.
Fibre Optic cable is much faster than Ethernet because the data is transmitted using very thin glass wires (the width of a human hair) which allow data to move at the speed of light. Unlike Ethernet, the signals sent down a Fibre Optic cable do not fade, so the cables can be used over much longer distances.
However, because it uses glass, there is a high risk of damage to cables which are also difficult to install. This makes it expensive, and often not appropriate for a LAN.
Once data reaches the LAN, a device is needed to route the data to the correct node (remember, a node is the name for a device in the network). Hubs are used as a basic device that connects nodes together using wired media and broadcasts the data to all nodes. This ensures that the correct node receives the data eventually, but creates additional network traffic and makes the data much less secure.
A switch looks very similar to a hub, but works in a more intelligent way. When the switch is installed, it begins to learn which devices are connected to the network by storing a list of MAC addresses. If a particular MAC address has requested data, then the switch can send the data to the node directly, otherwise the data is broadcast to the network.
Most home networks are likely to have a router installed. In modern versions, this is in fact two separate devices in one box: The modem, which acts as a gateway to internet traffic, and the router that directs data to a specific node on the network. Routers also have the ability to join several LANs together to create a larger network.
The router assigns an IP address to each device as it connects to the network. In doing this, all traffic can be sent directly, reducing latency.
Wireless Access Points are often built into routers, but can also be standalone devices. These allow wireless devices to connect using the WiFi protocol which is then translated into a signal that can be sent along wired cables.