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Ethernet is a data transfer protocol for local area networks developed at Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center. Ethernet is standardized as IEEE 802.3.


The combination of the twisted pair versions of Ethernet for connecting end systems to a network, along with the fiber optic versions for site backbones, is the most widespread wired LAN technology. It has been in use from the 1990s to the present, largely replacing competing LAN standards. In recent years, Wi-Fi, the wireless LAN standardized by IEEE 802.11, is prevalent in home and small office networks and augmenting Ethernet in larger installations.

Ethernet was originally based on the idea of computers communicating over a shared coaxial cable acting as a broadcast transmission medium. The methods used show some similarities to radio systems, although there are fundamental differences, such as the fact that it is much easier to detect collisions in a cable broadcast system than a radio broadcast. The common cable providing the communication channel was likened to the ether and it was from this reference that the name "Ethernet" was derived.

From this early and comparatively simple concept, Ethernet evolved into the complex networking technology that today underlies most LANs. The coaxial cable was replaced with point-to-point links connected by Ethernet hubs and/or network switches to reduce installation costs, increase reliability, and enable point-to-point management and troubleshooting. The advent of twisted pair wiring dramatically lowered installation costs relative to competing technologies, including the older Ethernet technologies.

Due to the ubiquity of Ethernet, the ever-decreasing cost of the hardware needed to support it, and the reduced panel space needed by twisted pair Ethernet, most manufacturers now build the functionality of an Ethernet card directly into PC motherboards, obviating the need for installation of a separate network card.

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