What is an Ethernet modem?

An Ethernet modem is an electronic device used to connect a computer to the Internet. This type of modem uses broadband technology to transfer and exchange data packets in real time. It usually comes in one of two forms. Ethernet-enabled digital subscriber line (DSL) modems use telephone lines, while cable modems use designated cable lines, often the same lines that subscribers use for television services. They work the same way, at least from a technical perspective, and both are known as “Ethernet” because of the way they are connected. Universal serial bus (USB) modems are similar but quite different in terms of the cabling they use for data portability.

Ethernet modems are used to connect computers to the Internet.

basic operation

All Ethernet modems have at least three connections. One is for a power supply, typically an alternating current (AC) wall outlet. The second is for the Ethernet cable itself, which runs from the modem to a computer’s network interface card (NIC). Third, there is a connection for a telephone or digital cable, which is usually plugged into a wall outlet.

An Ethernet cable.

There are also modems that can send and receive wireless signals. This usually happens with a special adapter or wireless router that broadcasts the modem signal nearby. People can pick up this signal with devices that have a wireless card or other network capabilities, and these devices usually don’t need a separate modem. The fact is that the Internet connection must have a modem at its source, even if it is only connected to a network server or wall outlet.

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A network interface card, which connects to an Ethernet cable.

Distinguish the two main types

Modems classified as Ethernet usually come as DSL or cable. A DSL modem connects to the Internet through a telephone line, but uses frequencies in the upper range of the line’s capabilities, in addition to those used for sound transmission. This means that people can often use their phones while online. Cable modems connect to the Internet using the same digital cable lines that televisions use to receive programming. Again, the part of the line used for transmission over the Internet is different from that used for cable, so customers can watch television while using the Internet. Many digital cable providers also use the Internet to transmit and store broadcasts.

Ethernet cables connected to an Internet switch.

Origins and history of the name

The term Ethernet is a reference to the passive substance ether, which was once thought to permeate all things. In theory, the ether carried light throughout the universe. In the context of the Internet, Ethernet uses the passive medium of cables to transmit data on your network. The first such modem was created in the 1970s by American computer scientist Robert Metcalfe and was based on an earlier Internet connectivity system known as Alohanet. Ethernet originally had theoretical data transfer rates of up to ten megabits per second (Mbps). Current technology allows for much faster speeds.

Comparison with USB modems

Ethernet tends to be one of the most widely used cable modems, though it does get some competition from USB modems. Both operate in a similar fashion and have similar data transfer speeds, although Ethernet is usually considered to be more reliable in the long term. The biggest difference is often the cabling and the fundamentals of the porting and wiring systems.

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The cable jacks used by an Ethernet modem closely resemble those of a phone cord. They are slightly wider, however, and the cable itself is also thicker. USB cables, meanwhile, have a flat metal connector that plugs into the USB ports found on desktop computers. The advantage of Ethernet cable over USB is that Ethernet cables can reach up to 328 ft (100 m) with no degradation in signal. USB cables are typically limited to 16 ft (5 m).

USB modems have advantages, too, though. One of the biggest is that this sort of modem can connect to any computer that has a USB port. An Ethernet modem requires an Ethernet network adapter in the computer. This can mean a higher initial cost, and can also be more limiting in terms of hardware compatibility.

One of the jacks on an Ethernet modem will connect an Ethernet cable to a computer’s network adapter.

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