Connecting the Dots – What Connects a Network?

12 May

With more focus these days on working from home, it has become unavoidably apparent just how necessary the internet is in our daily lives. Being able to connect to the internet is something that we all need, in our work lives as well as our private lives. This reality is made even more apparent by the fact that the United Nations Human Rights Council has called internet connectivity a “basic human right”.

While we all know how to access the internet network and make it “work”, what is it really? What is it that connects our computers and devices to the internet and other networks at home and at work? What actually makes a network…work?

What Connects a Network?

With a little thought, you will likely recognise that there are a whole host of pieces of hardware and of course, software that make it possible for your computer and other devices to link up to the internet and other networks. Let’s take a look at what these essential pieces of equipment, hardware, and software are that a network and devices need in order to “connect the dots”.

  • The Modem / Router

The modem is the most important device in the entire network as, without it, there is no way to connect to the actual internet. A modem can connect one computer at a time to an internet service provider by plugging a phone cable into the modem. The modem then links the device to the ISP and voila, internet access is made possible. If you want to connect more than one computer to the internet, you need a router.

Routers enable more than one device to connect to the internet either with a cable or wirelessly, and have a variety of ports that an Ethernet cable is plugged into. If the computer or device has wireless capability, the router can connect the computer and other devices via Wi-Fi. These days, most people make use of a modem-router combination device which offers far more convenience than having separate devices.

  • The WiFi Adapters

To connect to the network or your modem-router device, you will need a WiFi adapter. The device that is built into your handset or laptop/PC is called a Wi-Fi adapter. If your computer cannot automatically connect to the modem-router, you will need to invest in a USB adapter or a PCle adapter to allow such capability. The USB version simply plugs into the device, whereas the PCle device will need to be installed inside the actual computer.

  • Ethernet Adapter

Most homes have a PC linked to the modem router by means of a physical cable. This cable is called an “Ethernet cable” or a network cable. If you take a look at the plug ports on your laptop and PC, you should see a port that looks just like a telephone plug, except bigger. The Ethernet cable has a plug similar to a telephone cable, except bigger, that plugs in there. It is the Ethernet adapter on the motherboard that allows the cable to connect to the modem-router and connect to the internet.

In reality, the Ethernet adapter is similar to a Wi-Fi adapter, but it connects a cable instead of a wireless signal. You might wonder why someone would opt for an Ethernet adaptor and connection when Wi-Fi seems so convenient. The reason people opt for an Ethernet adapter when WiFi would seem more convenient is because an Ethernet cable connection offers faster connectivity and quicker transfer of large files.

  • A Network Switch

A network switch is often a feature in a large office space where the idea is to connect multiple PCs to the network as well as to each other. Connecting each PC independently would be a big job and also limit how the network works.

A black box with a switch that connects several systems is thus used…and that box is called a network switch. These switches typically plug and play, and offer 8 to 16 Ethernet ports with lights that indicate which devices are connecting correctly and which are not. Some of these devices are simplistic and the more one wants to monitor and limit the usage of the network, the more intricate and complex they can become.

Last Word

Whether you make use of the internet and network at home or in the office, it is good to have a basic grasp of the various components involved and how they basically work. Familiarise yourself with these components and the next time your network connectivity runs into a problem, you might have a better understanding of what the tech guys are doing to fix it in the future.

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