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November 2021

Clarifying Cable and Router Types: Ethernet, Coaxial, and Fiber

By DC Access Internet, WiFi

Occasionally customers want to reuse their old internet equipment when setting up service with DC Access.  Minimizing e-waste is great, but not all equipment is the same and can work with DC Access.  Let’s clarify the main types of data connections used on devices that work with DC Access equipment.

Ethernet is the standard for data transmission.  This is the type of cable DC Access uses to connect rooftop antennas to routers and routers to home plugs or other “hard-wired’ devices. They have 8 conductors terminated in a clear plastic housing (often with a black or colored boot over the clear part) that will give an audible click when installed properly.  You may see terms such as Cat5, Cat 5e, Cat 6; these are standards which define the maximum speed the cable can pass.

Here you can see the icon for Ethernet connections, an Ethernet port and cable termination for Ethernet cable.

Peter Trieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Eyreland, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

Coaxial is most often used to deliver video in the form of cable television services or from an antenna, and may also be used for passing data.  When used for data, this type of connection and cable is most often used by cable companies such as Comcast, Charter, Cox, Frontier etc. It is terminated in a threaded metal connector with a single conductor or wire extending from the middle of the cable.  It must be screwed onto the terminal on the back of a device such as a cable modem or television. This type of connection will not work with DC Access equipment. 

Here you can see a coaxial cable.

AleiPhoenix, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped

Fiber Optic uses bursts of laser light to carry data.  An example of a typical fiber interconnect is shown below.  This type of cable is used with a Fiber connection such as Verizon/AT&T’s FIOS or Google Fiber.  Usually, once the fiber connection terminates in the user’s home, an Ethernet cable is used to interconnect the router.  If you are switching from a fiber provider, your current router will not work with DC Access.

Examples of a combination cable modem/router, an ethernet router:

routers

Note the round, shiny bottommost post on the router on the left, this is for a coaxial connection.  The router on the right shows ethernet connections in blue and yellow (along with white usb ports for additional devices).

Wifi, what?

By DC Access Internet, WiFi

 

At its most basic W-Fi is a way to share information wirelessly. The technology is certified by a non-profit alliance that sets standards, including radio frequency, power, security encryption protocols and more, so that any wi-fi device can “speak” to another.

Wi-Fi works best when the connected devices have a ‘line of sight,” another way of saying there is nothing in between your router and device.  Wi-Fi connections are weakened to a greater or lesser extent by anything between the radio and connected device. Examples of things which may weaken your connection include interior or exterior walls, furniture, appliances, people’s bodies and more.  

There have been 6 generations of wi-fi technology that have been used in consumer products. They are named a, b, g, n, ac, and ax.  With the last 3 recently renamed Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6 respectively.  The latest generations offer faster speeds, improved efficiency and better resistance to wireless interference in high-density scenarios (like our neighborhoods).  DC Access currently deploys Wi-Fi 4 and 5 routers to our clients.

The latest generations of Wi-Fi use multiple frequencies; 2.4 GHz, 5 Ghz, and in Wi-Fi 6E 6 Ghz. The 2.4 Ghz band has long range and good wall penetration, which is both good for your connection and bad in terms of interference from neighbors.  The 5Ghz band is weakened more rapidly by walls, so you’ll see less interference when using your “.5g” network. The 6Ghz band offers the fastest possible speeds but is not in broad use yet.

While the different generations of wifi can pass data between them, the speed for any attached device will be capped at the limit of the slowest link in the chain, from your connection to the router or device.  So if you are set to our Essential Plus service level, your maximum speed will be limited to around 25 Mbps downloads regardless of how fast your wifi connection is.

A few key points to keep in mind:

  • A wired connection will almost always be faster and more secure than Wi-Fi.
  • Minimizing obstructions between your router and device will likely improve the performance of your connection.  
  • 5 Ghz frequency is weakened by walls, so the connection will have less interference and more stability than the 2.4.
  • Having a faster wi-fi network may help your connection, but it can be limited both by speeds elsewhere in your network (your slowest/oldest device) or from outside interference (other routers broadcasting on the same frequency)

Sources and Additional Reading

Ars Technica The Ars Technica semi-scientific guide to Wi-Fi Access Point placement 2/23/2020 – https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020/02/the-ars-technica-semi-scientific-guide-to-wi-fi-access-point-placement/

Fowler, G.A. (4/29/2020) Bad WiFi is slowing you down. Fix yours without spending a dime. Washington Post – https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/04/29/best-wifi-fix/ 

Microsoft Wi-Fi problems and your home layout – https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/wi-fi-problems-and-your-home-layout-e1ed42e7-a3c5-d1be-2abb-e8fad00ad32a 

Wi-Fi Alliance – https://www.wi-fi.org

Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi-Fi