How Ethernet Works

Limitations of Ethernet

A single shared cable can serve as the basis for a complete Ethernet network, which is what we discussed above. However, there are practical limits to the size of our Ethernet network in this case. A primary concern is the length of the shared cable.

Electrical signals propagate along a cable very quickly, but they weaken as they travel, and electrical interference from neighboring devices (fluorescent lights, for example) can scramble the signal. A network cable must be short enough that devices at opposite ends can receive each other's signals clearly and with minimal delay. This places a distance limitation on the maximum separation between two devices (called the network diameter) on an Ethernet network. Additionally, since in CSMA/CD only a single device can transmit at a given time, there are practical limits to the number of devices that can coexist in a single network. Attach too many devices to one shared segment and contention for the medium will increase. Every device may have to wait an inordinately long time before getting a chance to transmit.


Engineers have developed a number of network devices that alleviate these difficulties. Many of these devices are not specific to Ethernet, but play roles in other network technologies as well.