Typical SOHO LANs
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To begin, first think about a small office/home office (SOHO) LAN today, specifically
a LAN that uses only Ethernet LAN technology. First, the LAN needs a device called an
Ethernet LAN switch, which provides many physical ports into which cables can be connected.
An Ethernet uses Ethernet cables, which is a general reference to any cable that
conforms to any of several Ethernet standards. The LAN uses Ethernet cables to connect
different Ethernet devices or nodes to one of the switch’s Ethernet ports.
Figure 2-1 shows a drawing of a SOHO Ethernet LAN. The figure shows a single LAN
switch, five cables, and five other Ethernet nodes: three PCs, a printer, and one network
device called a router. (The router connects the LAN to the WAN, in this case to the
Figure 2-1 Typical Small Ethernet-Only SOHO LAN
Although Figure 2-1 shows a simple Ethernet LAN, many SOHO Ethernet LANs today
combine the router and switch into a single device. Vendors sell consumer-grade integrated
networking devices that work as a router and Ethernet switch, as well as doing other functions.
These devices typically have “router” on the packaging, but many models also have
four-port or eight-port Ethernet LAN switch ports built in to the device.
Typical SOHO LANs today also support wireless LAN connections. Ethernet defines wired
LAN technology only; in other words, Ethernet LANs use cables. However, you can build
one LAN that uses both Ethernet LAN technology as well as wireless LAN technology,
which is also defined by the IEEE. Wireless LANs, defined by the IEEE using standards that
begin with 802.11, use radio waves to send the bits from one node to the next.
Most wireless LANs rely on yet another networking device: a wireless LAN access point
(AP). The AP acts somewhat like an Ethernet switch, in that all the wireless LAN nodes communicate
with the Ethernet switch by sending and receiving data with the wireless AP. Of
course, as a wireless device, the AP does not need Ethernet ports for cables, other than for a
single Ethernet link to connect the AP to the Ethernet LAN, as shown in Figure 2-2.
Figure 2-2 Typical Small Wired and Wireless SOHO LAN
Note that this drawing shows the router, Ethernet switch, and wireless LAN access point as
three separate devices so that you can better understand the different roles. However, most
SOHO networks today would use a single device, often labeled as a “wireless router,” that
does all these functions.