PCS Blog

The Basics of Computer Networks


To many, computer networking is some sort of dark magic practiced by mystical people called “Network Engineers.” Computer Networking (Networking for our purposes) is just getting information from one computer/device to another. I added ‘device’ to include smart phones, tablets, smart watches and such. These can all be considered computers when it comes to networking.

Networking as we know it today didn’t come about until the late 1960’s. The first computer to computer link over a packet switched network didn’t happen until October of 1969. This network was called ARPAnet (the precursor to the Internet), and this first communication was between computers at 4 different college campuses – UCLA, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah. This was a very rudimentary network by today’s standards, but groundbreaking at the time.

Networks evolved and improved over time and were installed in large businesses and educational institutions. These early networks used a form of coaxial cable and the computers connected using what is called a vampire tap. A connection was made that actually pierced the coax and tapped into the core of the cable (part of it almost looked like vampire fangs). Each end of the cable had to have a device called a terminator, and only one device could talk on the network at a time.

Over time, cabling improved and networks began using twisted pair cabling (which we still use today).  There are 4 pairs of wires within the cable. Each pair of wires is twisted at different intervals to help eliminate electrical signals ‘leaking’ out. The cabling is divided into different ‘Categories.’ The higher the number, usually the higher the network speed that can be obtained. Most common in new installs today is Cat6 or Cat6A cabling. The category is determined by the makeup of the cables, the rate of twist, thickness of the core cable in each wire, if there is a divider separating the pairs, etc.

Cabling is the backbone of any network and is oftentimes the most overlooked. If the cabling is substandard or has issues, the network will not fully function. Think of cabling like roadways. If you have a new sports car, you’ll want to drive it on nice paved road, not a road full of potholes and cracks. You can drive a lot faster and safer on road without potholes and cracks in the pavement.

Remember, to have a good, fully functional network, proper cabling is a must. Cabling is the backbone/foundation of any network. Just like a highway, if the foundation is substandard or crumbling, they’ll be cracks and potholes in short order. Once you have a good foundation/backbone, having the proper Switching Equipment and configuration will allow the network to pass your data with speed and efficiency, making your network something to be proud of.

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