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What Is an Ethernet Modem?

Ethernet cables plugged into an Internet switch.
A network interface card, which connects to an Ethernet cable.
An ethernet cable.
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  • Written By: Douglas Bonderud
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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An Ethernet modem is a device used to connect a computer to the Internet. These modems use broadband technology that operates at far higher speeds than older, dial-up methods. Created in the 1970s by Robert Metcalfe, and based on an earlier system known as Alohanet, Ethernet technology originally had theoretical data transfer rates of up to ten megabits per second (Mbps). Current technology allows for much faster speeds.

The term Ethernet is a reference to the passive substance ether, which was once thought to pervade all things. In theory, ether carried light throughout the universe. Ethernet uses the passive medium of cables to transmit data throughout its network.

All Ethernet modems feature at least three connections. One is for a power source, typically an alternating current (AC) wall socket. 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 either a phone or digital cable cord, which is usually hooked up to a wall jack. There are also modems that can send and receive signals wirelessly.

Two common types are digital subscriber line (DSL) and digital cable. A DSL modem connects to the Internet via a phone line, but uses frequencies at the upper range of the line's capabilities, beyond those used for sound transmission. Cable modems connect to the Internet by using the same digital cable lines that televisions use to receive programming.

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There are currently two types of widely used broadband modems, Ethernet and universal serial bus (USB). These operate in a similar fashion and have similar data transfer speeds, although Ethernet is considered to be more reliable in the long term. What is different about the two technologies is the type of cabling they use.

The cable jacks used by an Ethernet modem closely resemble that of a phone cord. They are slightly wider, however, and the cable itself is thicker than a typical phone cord. 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).

One advantage of a USB modem is that it 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.

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Discuss this Article

matthewc23
Post 4

@JimmyT - In my experience, getting the wireless modems isn't worth it unless you absolutely have to have an internet connection in places where there is no other way to get access.

My sister had a card like that through her wireless provider that let her get internet, because she traveled a lot. She has always been afraid of using airport connections and thought the Ethernet modem card might be easier. What you are really getting, though, is just cell phone internet on a laptop. When you consider how slow most 3G connections are, you can imagine that you can't be very productive.

Even with 4G, I still don't think you'll have the same capabilities as with regular WiFi connections. I would say to just risk the WiFi unless you absolutely need the wireless card.

JimmyT
Post 3

@kentuckycat - I have never heard of a wireless modem that was able to be used as the main modem for a house. I don't think any cable providers offer wireless internet access, either.

I assume what the article was referring to was using USB-based cards that plug into a computer. Something like a 3G Ethernet modem offered by a cellular company that allows you to get internet access using cell phone networks.

Depending on the provider, they may work differently. Any of the modems I have seen plug into the media slot on a computer and allow connections that way. The article mentions being able to connect through USB, and I have heard of those being available, as well. I have never used a wireless modem, so I don't know how well they work, though.

kentuckycat
Post 2

@cardsfan27 - From what I had been told, a lot of people say that cable modems are generally faster than DSL, but I don't know whether it is really true in practice. I have had both kinds of modem, and I think the difference in speeds, if any, is imperceptible. I think a lot of it really just comes down to your provider and what services they offer.

What I don't know about is how well the wireless Ethernet modems work. I was not even aware that wireless technology existed yet. I know with all things, wireless goes a little bit slower than the wired counterpart, but I don't know if it has any noticeable effect. How would the wireless modems work, though? I have not heard of any companies using them. Where does the signal come from, and what stops people from being able to steal the connection?

cardsfan27
Post 1

I never realized how much went into being able to use the internet every day. I guess we really take for granted all of the stuff happening behind the scenes when we start up our computers. I still remember the days of 56k modems and having to sit through the dial-up process. Even after all of that, the internet stilled crawled along compared to broadband, which is basically an instant connection. I always like telling younger people how good they have it not having to wait for dial-up.

I had heard the term DSL used a lot, but I was always under the impression that it was the same as cable internet. I guess that isn't the case, though. Is there any real difference in quality between the ethernet cable modems and DSL modems?

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