There are a few basic pieces of common networking equipment that the lay person should be familiar with. Please use this guide to acquaint yourself with this gear. Becoming familiar with how your internet service arrives to your location and how you can better use it opens the doors to easier troubleshooting and optimization of your network.
Basic Residential-Level Equipment
Wireless Routers and Wireless Access Points
The most common device in homes today is the all-in-one switch/router/wireless access point combo. This is typically marketed as the “wireless router”.
Wireless Routers and Access Points are a great solution to most common household setups because it incorporates all of the most useful elements of networking equipment. Most of these devices have an “internet port” (might be labeled “WAN”) for the line coming into your house from your ISP, a bank of LAN switch ports for networking all of your hardwired devices, and a wireless card for all of your mobile devices.
Also known as CAT-5 or CAT-6 (Category 5 or 6) cables, ethernet cables are the common cables used to send and receive data. Many people use these cables to physically connect networks to each other.
The tips of the cables (known as RJ-45) closely resemble phone cable tips (RJ-11). These cables connect computers to switches, routers or other networked devices.
Bonus Trivia Material: These cables most commonly contain 4 wound conductor pairs and can be used to transmit data and occasionally power (POE – Power over ethernet).
Basic Business-Level Equipment
A router is an essential part of any basic network. A router takes incoming traffic and act as a sorting facility of sorts for the data packets (the pieces of information that we send and receive on the internet). Routes send packets from one network and send them to the network that they are meant to go.
We can think of routers as an intersection between different networks. They guide data packets safely through an intersection and sends them on their way to their respective destinations.
A switch acts like a set of bridges for a network between its devices and the internet. Don’t confuse it with the light switches on the wall!
Switches are intelligent hubs for computers and networked devices to connect with each-other to share data. It receives data and sends it only to specific recipients (which are set by whomever sets up your network).
While routers (our intersections) broadcast data to all kinds of venues and paths (on what’s called a routing table), switches only receive on one port and send on another (way simpler). They are simply a conduit for information and a conglomeration of ports.
Customers with Legacy Equipment
The actual definition of a modem is an analog modulators for telephone lines. In other words, “that box that gives us internet access.”
We first saw modems on dial-up connections in the 90’s, such as 56K technology.
Since broadband has become the industry standard, the term “modem” has come to stand for any ISP provided equipment (see “box that gives us internet access” above). Today’s modems are specialized routers and power supplies. So, please take care of them as they regulate and provide your internet connection.
Standard phone cables connect modems to phone lines in order to commit that dedicated circuit to an internet connection using the modem. Typically, these phone lines are connected to a set of routers and switches somewhere within your location.
It’s not that the internet connection is sent through the telephone cables outside, like landline phones use. No– we’re likely using only the telephony equipment in your building as a medium of providing internet service to you.
The goal of this article isn’t to bore you to death with the details about internet equipment. We want to make sure our customers understand the components of their high-speed internet setup so our Support Team can quickly identify what’s going on in the case of trouble.
For instance, when asked “Is there cable damage?,” we hope that a customer can quickly identify where their ethernet cable is, identify the damage, and let us know. Being on the same page allows us to better serve you and to create efficient, pleasant troubleshooting if need be.
Of course, we’ll be hard at work optimizing and maintaining our network to reduce the amount of trouble that we’ll need to shoot.