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Black Box Explains...Designing your wireless network.

Setting up wireless devices that belong to the 802.11 family is relatively simple, but you do have to pay attention to a few simple factors.

Ad-hoc or infrastructure... more/see it nowmode?

The 802.11 wireless standards support two basic configurations: ad-hoc mode and infrastructure mode.

In ad-hoc mode, wireless user devices such as laptop computers and PDAs communicate directly with each other in a peer-to-peer manner without the benefit of access points.

Ad-hoc mode is generally used to form very small spontaneous networks. For instance, with ad-hoc mode, laptop users in a meeting can quickly establish a small network to share files.

Infrastructure mode uses wireless access points to enable wireless devices to communicate with each other and with your wired network. Most networks use infrastructure mode.

The basic components of infrastructure mode networks include:

  • The radios embedded or installed within the wireless devices themselves. Many notebook computers and other Wi-Fi-compliant mobile devices, such as PDAs, come with the transmitters built in. But for others, you need to install a card-type device to enable wireless communications. Desktop PCs may also need an ISA or a PCI bus adapter to enable the cards to work.
  • The access point, which acts as a base station that relays signals between the 802.11 devices.
One or many access points?

Access points are standalone hardware devices that provide a central point of communication for your wireless users. How many you need in your application depends on the number of users and the amount of bandwidth required by each user. Bandwidth is shared, so if your network has many users who routinely send data-heavy multimedia files, additional access points may be required to accommodate the demand.

A small-office network with fewer than 15 users may need just 1 access point. Larger networks require multiple points. If the hardware supports it, you can overlap coverage areas to allow users to roam between cells without any break in network coverage. A user’s wireless device picks up a signal beacon from the strongest access point to maintain seamless coverage.

How many access points to use also depends on your operating environment and the required range. Radio propagation can be affected by walls and electrical interference that can cause signal reflection and fading. If you’re linking mobile users indoors-where walls and other obstructions impede the radiated signal-the typical maximum range is 150 feet. Outdoors, you can get greater WLAN range-up to 2000 feet (depending on your antenna type) where there’s a clear line of sight!

For optimal speed and range, install your wireless access point several feet above the floor or ground and away from metal equipment or large appliances that may emit interference.

Battle of the bands.

In addition to sharing bandwidth, users also share a band. Most IEEE 802.11 or 802.11b devices function in the 2.4-2.4835-GHz band. But these frequencies are often congested, so you may want to use devices that take advantage of the IEEE 802.11a 5.725-5.825-GHz band.

No matter what frequency you use, you’ll want to isolate your users from outsiders using the same frequency. To do this, assign your users a network identifier, such as an Extended Service Set Identifier (ESSID), as well as distinct channels.

Web and wired network links.

The access point links your wireless network to your wired network, enabling your wireless users to access shared data resources and devices across your LAN enterprise. Some access points even feature capabilities for routing traffic in one or both directions between a wired and wireless network.

For Internet access, connect a broadband router with an access point to an Internet connection over a broadband service such as DSL, cable modem, or satellite.

For connecting network printers, you can dedicate a computer to act as a print server or add a wireless print server device; this enables those on your wireless network to share printers.

When to use external antennas.

If you plan to install access points, you can boost your signal considerably by adding external antennas. Various mounting configurations and high- and low-gain options are available.

You can also use add-on antennas to connect nodes where the topology doesn’t allow for a clear signal between access points. Or use them to link multiple LANs located far apart.

Additional external antennas are also useful to help overcome the effects of multipath propagation in which a signal takes different paths and confuses the receiver. It’s also helpful to deploy antennas that propagate the signal in a way that fits the environment. For instance, for a long, narrow corridor, use an antenna that focuses the RF pattern in one direction instead of one that radiates the signal in all directions.

Plan ahead with a site survey.

A site survey done ahead of time to plot where the signal is the strongest can help you identify problem areas and avoid dead spots where coverage isn’t up to par or is unreliable. For this, building blueprints are helpful in revealing potential obstructions that you might not see in your physical site walkthrough.

To field test for a clear signal path, attach an antenna to an access point or laptop acting as the transmitter at one end. Attach another antenna to a wireless device acting as a receiver at the other end. Then check for interference using RF test equipment (such as a wireless spectrum analyzer) and determine whether vertical or horizontal polarization will work best.

Need help doing this? Call us. We even offer a Site Survey Kit that has a variety of antennas included. Great for installers, the kit enables you to test a variety of antennas in the field before placing a larger antenna order.


Black Box Explains...NEBS Level 3.

Network Equipment Building System (NEBS) standards set requirements for telco equipment. The standards are maintained by Telcordia Technologies, Inc., formerly Bellcore. Bellcore Special Report, SR-3580 defines three distinct functional levels... more/see it nowof NEBS compliance. The third of these levels, NEBS Level 3, is the most stringent, certifying carrier-class equipment intended for long-term use in variable environments.

NEBS Level 3 certifies that a piece of equipment can be safely used in an extreme environment. To become certified at NEBS Level 3, a device must meet strict physical, electrical, and environmental requirements to prove it will operate safely and reliably in extreme conditions. It must pass a series of tests that include extreme heat, humidity, fire, earthquakes (Zone 4), light, and noise. collapse


xDSL, a term that encompasses the broad range of digital subscriber line (DSL) services, offers a low-cost, high-speed data transport option for both individuals and businesses, particularly in areas without... more/see it nowaccess to cable Internet.

xDSL provides data transmission over copper lines, using the local loop, the existing outside-plant telephone cable network that runs right to your home or office. DSL technology is relatively cheap and reliable.

SHDSL can be used effectively in enterprise LAN applications. When interconnecting sites on a corporate campus, buildings and network devices often lie beyond the reach of a standard Ethernet segment. Now you can use existing copper network infrastructure to connect remote LANS across longer distances and at higher speeds than previously thought possible.

There are various forms of DSL technologies, all of which face distance issues. The quality of the signals goes down with increasing distance. The most common will be examined here, including SHDSL, ADSL, and SDSL.

SHDSL (also known as G.SHDSL) (Single-Pair, High-Speed Digital Subscriber Line) transmits data at much higher speeds than older versions of DSL. It enables faster transmission and connections to the Internet over regular copper telephone lines than traditional voice modems can provide. Support of symmetrical data rates makes SHDSL a popular choice for businesses for PBXs, private networks, web hosting, and other services.

Ratified as a standard in 2001, SHDSL combines ADSL and SDSL features for communications over two or four (multiplexed) copper wires. SHDSL provides symmetrical upstream and downstream transmission with rates ranging from 192 kbps to 2.3 Mbps. As a departure from older DSL services designed to provide higher downstream speeds, SHDSL specified higher upstream rates, too. Higher transmission rates of 384 kbps to 4.6 Mbps can be achieved using two to four copper pairs. The distance varies according to the loop rate and noise conditions.

For higher-bandwidth symmetric links, newer G.SHDSL devices for 4-wire applications support 10-Mbps rates at distances up to 1.3 miles (2 km). Equipment for 2-wire deployments can transmit up to 5.7 Mbps at the same distance.

SHDSL (G.SHDSL) is the first DSL standard to be developed from the ground up and to be approved by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as a standard for symmetrical digital subscriber lines. It incorporates features of other DSL technologies, such as ADSL and SDS, and is specified in the ITU recommendation G.991.2.

Also approved in 2001, VDSL (Very High Bitrate DSL) as a DSL service allows for downstream/upstream rates up to 52 Mbps/16 Mbps. Extenders for local networks boast 100-Mbps/60-Mbps speeds when communicating at distances up to 500 feet (152.4 m) over a single voice-grade twisted pair. As a broadband solution, VDSL enables the simultaneous transmission of voice, data, and video, including HDTV, video on demand, and high-quality videoconferencing. Depending on the application, you can set VDSL to run symmetrically or asymmetrically.

VDSL2 (Very High Bitrate DSL 2), standardized in 2006, provides a higher bandwidth (up to 30 MHz) and higher symmetrical speeds than VDSL, enabling its use for Triple Play services (data, video, voice) at longer distances. While VDSL2 supports upstream/downstream rates similar to VDSL, at longer distances, the speeds don’t fall off as much as those transmitted with ordinary VDSL equipment.

ADSL (Asymmetric DSL) provides transmission speeds ranging from downstream/upstream rates of 9 Mbps/640 kbps over a relatively short distance to 1.544 Mbps/16 kbps as far away as 18,000 feet. The former speeds are more suited to a business, the latter more to the computing needs of a residential customer.

More bandwidth is usually required for downstream transmissions, such as receiving data from a host computer or downloading multimedia files. ADSL’s asymmetrical nature provides more than sufficient bandwidth for these applications.

The lopsided nature of ADSL is what makes it most likely to be used for high-speed Internet access. And the various speed/distance options available within this range are one more point in ADSL’s favor. Like most DSL services standardized by ANSI as T1.413, ADSL enables you to lease and pay for only the bandwidth you need.

SDSL (Symmetric DSL) represents the two-wire version of HDSL—which is actually symmetric DSL, albeit a four-wire version. SDSL is also known within ANSI as HDSL2.

Essentially offering the same capabilities as HDSL, SDSL offers T1 rates (1.544 Mbps) at ranges up to 10,000 feet and is primarily designed for business applications.


Black Box Explains...PoE phantom power.

10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX Ethernet use only two pairs of wire in 4-pair CAT5/CAT5e/CAT6 cable, leaving the other two pairs free to transmit power for Power over Ethernet (PoE) applications. However,... more/see it nowGigabit Ethernet or 1000BASE-T uses all four pairs of wires, leaving no pairs free for power. So how can PoE work over Gigabit Ethernet?

The answer is through the use of phantom power—power sent over the same wire pairs used for data. When the same pair is used for both power and data, the power and data transmissions don’t interfere with each other. Because electricity and data function at opposite ends of the frequency spectrum, they can travel over the same cable. Electricity has a low frequency of 60 Hz or less, and data transmissions have frequencies that can range from 10 million to 100 million Hz.

10- and 100-Mbps PoE may also use phantom power. The 802.3af PoE standard for use with 10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX defines two methods of power transmission. In one method, called Alternative A, power and data are sent over the same pair. In the other method, called Alternative B, two wire pairs are used to transmit data, and the remaining two pairs are used for power. That there are two different PoE power-transmission schemes isn’t obvious to the casual user because PoE Powered Devices (PDs) are made to accept power in either format. collapse

Black Box Explains…SFP compatibility.

Standards for SFP fiber optic media are published in the SFP Multi-Source Agreement, which specifies size, connectors, and signaling for SFPs, with the idea that all SFPs are compatible with... more/see it nowdevices that have appropriate SFP slots. These standards, which also extend to SFP+ and XFP transceivers, enable users to mix and match components from different vendors to meet their own particular requirements.

However, some major manufacturers, notably Cisco®, HP®, and 3Com®, sell network devices with SFP slots that lock out transceivers from other vendors. Because the price of SFPs—especially Gigabit SFPs and 10GBASE SFP+ and XFP transceivers—can add significantly to the price of a switch, this lock-out scheme raises hardware costs and limits transceiver choices.

Many vendors don’t advertise that SFP slots on their devices don’t accept standard SFPs from other vendors. This can lead to unpleasant surprises when a device simply refuses to communicate with an SFP.

Another game that some vendors play is to build devices that accept open-standard SFPs, but refuse to support those devices when SFPs from another vendor are used with them.

The only way around this “lock-in” practice is to only buy network devices that accept standard SFPs from all vendors and to buy from vendors that support their devices no matter whose SFPs are used with them. Questions? Call our FREE Tech Support at 724-746-5500. collapse

Black Box Explains...Ethernet hubs vs. Ethernet switches.

Although hubs and switches look very similar and are connected to the network in much the same way, there is a significant difference in the way they function.

What is a... more/see it nowhub?
An Ethernet hub is the basic building block of a twisted-pair (10BASE-T or 100BASE-TX) Ethernet network. Hubs do little more than act as a physical connection. They link PCs and peripherals and enable them to communicate over a network. All data coming into the hub travels to all stations connected to the hub. Because a hub doesn’t use management or addressing, it simply divides the 10- or 100-Mbps bandwidth among users. If two stations are transferring high volumes of data between them, the network performance of all stations on that hub will suffer. Hubs are good choices for small- or home-office networks, particularly if bandwidth concerns are minimal.

What is a switch?
An Ethernet switch, on the other hand, provides a central connection in an Ethernet network in which each connected device has its own dedicated link with full bandwidth. Switches divide LAN data into smaller, easier-to-manage segments and send data only to the PCs it needs to reach. They allot a full 10 or 100 Mbps to each user with addressing and management features. As a result, every port on the switch represents a dedicated 10- or 100-Mbps pathway. Because users connected to a switch do not have to share bandwidth, a switch offers relief from the network congestion a shared hub can cause.

What to consider when selecting an Ethernet hub:
• Stackability. Select a stackable hub connected with a special cable so you can start with one hub and add others as you need more ports. The entire stack functions as one device.
• Manageability. Choose an SNMP-manageable hub if you have a large, managed network.

What to consider when selecting an Ethernet switch:
• Manageability. Ethernet switches intended for large managed networks feature built-in management, usually SNMP.
• OSI Layer operation. Most Ethernet switches operate at “Layer 2,” which is for the physical network addresses (MAC addresses). Layer 3 switches use network addresses, and incorporate routing functions to actively calculate the best way to send a packet to its destination. Very advanced Ethernet switches, often known as routing switches, operate on OSI Layer 4 and route network traffic according to the application.
• Modular construction. A modular switch enables you to populate a chassis with modules of different speeds and media types. Because you can easily change modules, the modular switch is an adaptable solution for large, growing networks.
• Stackability. Some Ethernet switches can be connected to form a stack of two or more switches that functions as a single network device. This enables you to start with fewer ports and add them as your network grows. collapse

Black Box Explains...Single-strand fiber WDM.

Traditional fiber optic media converters perform a useful function but don’t really reduce the amount of cable needed to send data on a fiber segment. They still require two strands... more/see it nowof glass to send transmit and receive signals for fiber media communications. Wouldn’t it be better to combine these two logical communication paths within one strand?

That’s exactly what single-strand fiber conversion does. It compresses the transmit and receive wavelengths into one single-mode fiber strand.

The conversion is done with Wave-Division Multiplexing (WDM) technology. WDM technology increases the information-carrying capacity of optical fiber by transmitting two signals simultaneously at different wavelengths on the same fiber. The way it usually works is that one unit transmits at 1310 nm and receives at 1550 nm. The other unit transmits at 1550 nm and receives at 1310 nm. The two wavelengths operate independently and don’t interfere with each other. This bidirectional traffic flow effectively converts a single fiber into a pair of “virtual fibers,” each driven independently at different wavelengths.

Although most implementations of WDM on single-strand fiber offer two channels, four-channel versions are just being introduced, and versions offering as many as 10 channels with Gigabit capacity are on the horizon.

WDM on single-strand fiber is most often used for point-to-point links on a long-distance network. It’s also used to increase network capacity or relieve network congestion. collapse

Black Box Explains...Why media converters need SNMP.

The number of Ethernet switches and fiber optic segments being added to Ethernet networks keeps increasing. And as long as most Ethernet switches are only available with 10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX... more/see it nowinterfaces, media converters will remain in demand.

Until now, a failure on the network could go unnoticed. Once a failure was detected, it could take a long time to isolate it, especially if a technician had to be sent to the site. But media converters with SNMP eliminate some of the guesswork.

With SNMP, the IS manager can detect a failure, isolate it to a specific port, and determine what hardware is required to repair it. A technician can then be sent directly to the right place to fix faulty hardware or repair a broken cable.

SNMP enables you to set up alarms or traps when a link is down. You can turn features on and off from a central terminal, so there’s no need to leave your desk. You can also monitor power supplies and replace them without interrupting service. SNMP management reduces the time and money it takes to get your network up and running again. The users on your network will notice—and appreciate—the improved service and reliability. collapse

Black Box Explains...How fiber is insulated for use in harsh environments.

Fiber optic cable not only gives you immunity to interference and greater signal security, but it’s also constructed to insulate the fiber’s core from the stress associated with use in... more/see it nowharsh environments.

The core is a very delicate channel that’s used to transport data signals from an optical transmitter to an optical receiver. To help reinforce the core, absorb shock, and provide extra protection against cable bends, fiber cable contains a coating of acrylate plastic.

In an environment free from the stress of external forces such as temperature, bends, and splices, fiber optic cable can transmit light pulses with minimal attenuation. And although there will always be some attenuation from external forces and other conditions, there are two methods of cable construction to help isolate the core: loose-tube and tight-buffer construction.

In a loose-tube construction, the fiber core literally floats within a plastic gel-filled sleeve. Surrounded by this protective layer, the core is insulated from temperature extremes, as well as from damaging external forces such as cutting and crushing.

In a tight-core construction, the plastic extrusion method is used to apply a protective coating directly over the fiber coating. This helps the cable withstand even greater crushing forces. But while the tight-buffer design offers greater protection from core breakage, it’s more susceptible to stress from temperature variations. Conversely, while it’s more flexible than loose-tube cable, the tight-buffer design offers less protection from sharp bends or twists. collapse

Black Box Explains...LAN switches.

Rush hour-all day, every day.

Applications such as document imaging, video/multimedia production, and intranetworking are very demanding. They generate huge data files that often must be transferred... more/see it nowbetween stations based on strict timing requirements. If such traffic is not transmitted efficiently, you end up with jerky video, on-screen graphics that take forever to load, or other irritating, debilitating problems.

These problems arise because in traditional LANs, only one network node transmits data at a time while all other stations listen. This works in conventional, server-based LANs where multiple workstations share files or applications housed on a central server. But if a network has several servers, or if it supports high-bandwidth, peer-to-peer applications such as videoconferencing, the one-station-at-a-time model just doesn’t work.

Ideally, each LAN workstation should be configured with its own dedicated LAN cable segment. But that’s neither practical nor affordable. A far more reasonable solution is a network designed to provide clear paths from each workstation to its destination on demand, whether that destination is another workstation or server.

These vehicles clear the lanes.

Unlike bridges and routers, which process data packets on an individual, first-come, first-served basis, switches maintain multiple, simultaneous data conversions among attached LAN segments.

From the perspective of an end-user workstation, a switched circuit appears to be a dedicated connection-a direct, full-speed LAN link to an attached server or other remote LAN node. Although this technique is somewhat different from what a LAN bridge or router does, switching hubs are based on similar technologies.

Which route will you choose?

Switching hubs that use bridging technologies are called Layer 2 switches-a reference to Layer 2 or the Data-Link Layer of the OSI Model. These switches operate using the MAC addresses in Layer 2 and are transparent to network protocols. Switches that use routing technologies are known as Layer 3 switches, referring to Layer 3—the Network Layer—of the OSI Model. These switches, like routers, represent the next higher level of intelligence in the hardware hierarchy. Rather than passing packets based on MAC addresses, these switches look into the data structure and route it based on the network addresses found in Layer 3. They are also dependent on the network protocol.

Layer 2 switches connect different parts of the same network as determined by the network number contained with the data packet. Layer 3 switches connect LANs or LAN segments with different network numbers.

If you’re subdividing an existing LAN, obviously you’re dealing with only one network and one network number, so you can install a Layer 2 switch wherever it will segment network traffic the best, and you don’t have to reconfigure the LAN. However, if you use a Layer 3 switch, you’ll have to reconfigure the segments to ensure that each has a different network number.

Similarly, if you’re connecting existing networks, you have to examine the currently configured network numbers before adding a switch. If the network numbers are the same, you need to use a Layer 2 switch. If they’re different, you must use a Layer 3 switch.

When dealing with multiple existing networks, you’ll find they usually use different network numbers. In this case, it’s preferable to use a Layer 3 switch (or possibly even a full-featured router) to avoid reconfiguring the network.

But what if you’re designing a network from scratch and can choose either type of switch? Your decision should be based on the expected complexity of your LAN. Layer 3 routing technology is well suited for complex networks. Layer 2 switches are recommended for smaller, less complex networks.


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