Ethernet technologies are by far the most popular for home and small-business solutions. There are a number of Ethernet solutions from which you can choose. The only real drawback to Ethernet is the need to run wires between all the computers that will participate in the network and the hub or switch that is used to connect the computers to each other. Ethernet wires are referred to as Category 5 (CAT5 or CAT5e) cables and have been specified as a standard by Electronics Industries Alliance (EIA) /Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). (CAT5 is also known as the EIA/TIA 568 standard.) If you're interested in more detail, you can visit http://wikipedia.org and search for Category 5 cable or EIA/TIA.
Choosing Your Ethernet Cables
Various cable types can be used to connect computers to each other with varying speeds. CAT5 cables are designed to provide reliable data communications for Ethernet networks up to 100Mbps. The maximum distance that data can be transmitted reliably with a CAT5 cable is 100 meters, or just about 330 feet. CAT5e cables are designed to provide reliable data communications for Ethernet networks up 1000Mbps (referred to as Gigabit Ethernet). The maximum distance that data can be transmitted reliably with a CAT5e cable is 100 meters, assuming a gigabit network. CAT5e cables can also be used in 100Mbps Ethernet networks, where the advantage they offer is a maximum distance of 350 meters, as opposed to 100 meters offered by CAT5 cables.
You might want to be aware of the CAT3 standard, although chances are that you will have little need for it from this point on. The CAT3 specification defines a cable that is used for data transmission on 10Mbps networks over a maximum distance of 100 meters. EIA and TIA are the organizations responsible for these standards.
A central device called the hub or switch is used as the communications command center for each computer. The difference between a hub and switch has to do with whether the speed of the connection is shared or dedicated to a single computer:
The original Ethernet specification was intended to be implemented by using a hub and a data transmission rate of 10Mbps. CAT3 cables were used back then. The 100Mbps Ethernet implementation is called Fast Ethernet, and, as we have already discussed, it is intended to be run over CAT5 cables. Chances are that if you have a recent computer, you will only need to concern yourself with Fast Ethernet and possibly Gigabit Ethernet speeds. This makes your choice a lot easier in terms of hub or switch selection. While it is possible to buy a Fast Ethernet hub, it really makes no practical or financial sense to do so. The speed difference you gain is worth the nominal price increase you will pay for a switch versus a hub.
The single greatest factor influencing your home networking decision may rest on where your computers will be located and/or whether your home is already wired for computer networking. You may also want to consider running wires behind walls yourself or having them run for you by a qualified technician. These latter two options can be either time-consuming or costly, depending on the number of computers and difficulty running the wires. If all your computers will be located in a single room, wired Ethernet may be the most economical choice. If, however, your computers consist of laptops that will move from room to room, you might want to consider wireless networking as an alternative.