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Black Box Explains...SFP, SFP+, and XFP transceivers.

SFP, SFP+, and XFP are all terms for a type of transceiver that plugs into a special port on a switch or other network device to convert the port to... more/see it nowa copper or fiber interface. These compact transceivers replace the older, bulkier GBIC interface. Although these devices are available in copper, their most common use is to add fiber ports. Fiber options include multimode and single-mode fiber in a variety of wavelengths covering distances of up to 120 kilometers (about 75 miles), as well as WDM fiber, which uses two separate wavelengths to both send and receive data on a single fiber strand.

SFPs support speeds up to 4.25 Gbps and are generally used for Fast Ethernet or Gigabit Ethernet applications. The expanded SFP standard, SFP+, supports speeds of 10 Gbps or higher over fiber. XFP is a separate standard that also supports 10-Gbps speeds. The primary difference between SFP+ and the slightly older XFP standard is that SFP+ moves the chip for clock and data recovery into a line card on the host device. This makes an SFP+ smaller than an XFP, enabling greater port density.

Because all these compact transcievers are hot-swappable, there’s no need to shut down a switch to swap out a module—it’s easy to change interfaces on the fly for upgrades and maintenance.

Another characteristic shared by this group of transcievers is that they’re OSI Layer 1 devices—they’re transparent to data and do not examine or alter data in any way. Although they’re primarily used with Ethernet, they’re also compatible with uncommon or legacy standards such as Fibre Channel, ATM, SONET, or Token Ring.

Formats for SFP, SFP+, and XFP transceivers have been standardized by multisource agreements (MSAs) between manufacturers, so physical dimensions, connectors, and signaling are consistent and interchangeable. Be aware though that some major manufacturers, notably Cisco, sell network devices with slots that lock out transceivers from other vendors. collapse


SHDSL, VDSL, VDSL2, ADSL, and SDSL.

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.

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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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Non-standard PoE

Because Power over Ethernet (PoE) delivers power over the same cable as data, it’s popular for powering devices such as VoIP phones, wireless access points, and security cameras. It often... more/see it nowleads to significant savings by eliminating the need to install a separate power outlet.

Most PoE today is standards-based IEEE 802.3af or the newer higher-powered IEEE 802.3at PoE, which are very safe because power source equipment (PSE) doesn’t add power to the data line unless it detects a compatible powered device (PD) connected to the other end of the cable. This protects devices that do not support PoE. PSEs and PDs also negotiate power requirements, so a PD never receives too much power. Both PSEs and PDs have power supplies and regulators isolated from ground to minimize shock hazard.

But here’s where it gets complicated…
Because most PoE available today is standards-based 802.3af or 802.3at, it’s easy to forget that there are versions of PoE that are NOT standards based. Some of these non-standards-based versions of PoE feature power injectors that inject power without checking compatibility—and that can be very bad news for an innocent network device.

Non-standard PoE tends to fall into three categories: proprietary PoE, high-wattage proprietary PoE, and passive PoE.

Proprietary PoE.
Before the ratification of the 802.3af standard in 2003, PoE was a free-for-all with many vendors offering their own method of delivering power over data lines. Some vendors still offer their own proprietary PoE. These proprietary solutions offer varying degrees of communication between PSE and PD. Our Black Box® Wireless Point-to-Point Ethernet Extender Kit (LWE100A-KIT) uses Prorietary PoE in the form of 12 VDC running at 12 W, which is well below the 48 VDC and 15.4 W provided by standard 802.3af.

High-wattage Proprietary PoE.
Many vendors offer high-wattage PoE solutions designed to deliver from 50 watts to 100 or even 200 watts per port. High-wattage proprietary PoE is often used with high-powered outdoor wireless radios.

Passive PoE.
Passive PoE injects power into an Ethernet cable on Pins 4 and 5 with negative return on Pins 7 and 8 and absolutely no communication between PSE and PD. This method was once a very common “home brew” method of transferring power over data cable and is still commonly used in telecomm applications.

Document and label.
There’s nothing wrong with PoE that’s not standards based—these power methods work as well as 802.3af/at PoE to power network devices. You do, however, need to be aware of what kind of Power over Ethernet you have and what it will work with. Good network documentation and labeling are the keys that enable you to know that, for instance, that power injector is a high-wattage proprietary injector that will fry the IP camera you’re about to connect. Proper documentation, which is good practice in any case, becomes absolutely vital when you have components that may damage other components.
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Black Box Explains...DIN rails.

A DIN rail is an industry-standard metal rail, usually installed inside an electrical enclosure, which serves as a mount for small electrical devices specially designed for use with DIN rails.... more/see it nowThese devices snap right onto the rails, sometimes requiring a set screw, and are then wired together.

Many different devices are available for mounting on DIN rails: terminal blocks, interface converters, media converter switches, repeaters, surge protectors, PLCs, fuses, or power supplies, just to name a few.

DIN rails are a space-saving way to accommodate components. And because DIN rail devices are so easy to install, replace, maintain, and inspect, this is an exceptionally convenient system that has become very popular in recent years.

A standard DIN rail is 35-mm wide with raised-lip edges, its dimensions outlined by the Deutsche Institut für Normung, a German standardization body. Rails are generally available in aluminum or steel and may be cut for installation. Depending on the requirements of the mounted components, the rail may need to be grounded. collapse


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...Wireless Ethernet standards.

IEEE 802.11
The precursor to 802.11b, IEEE 802.11 was introduced in 1997. It was a beginning, but 802.11 only supported speeds up to 2 Mbps. And it supported two entirely different... more/see it nowmethods of encoding—Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) and Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS). This led to confusion and incompatibility between different vendors’ equipment.

IEEE 802.11b
802.11b is comfortably established as the most popular wireless standard. With the IEEE 802.11b Ethernet standard, wireless is fast, easy, and affordable. Wireless devices from all vendors work together seamlessly. 802.11b is a perfect example of a technology that has become both sophisticated and standardized enough to really make life simpler for its users.

The 802.11b extension of the original 802.11 standard boosts wireless throughput from 2 Mbps all the way up to 11 Mbps. 802.11b can transmit up to 200 feet under good conditions, although this distance may be reduced considerably by the presence of obstacles such as walls.

This standard uses DSSS. With DSSS, each bit transmitted is encoded and the encoded bits are sent in parallel across an entire range of frequencies. The code used in a transmission is known only to the sending and receiving stations. By transmitting identical signals across the entire range of frequencies, DSSS helps to reduce interference and makes it possible to recover lost data without retransmission.

IEEE 802.11a
The 802.11a wireless Ethernet standard is new on the scene. It uses a different band than 802.11b—the 5.8-GHz band called U-NII (Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure) in the United States. Because the U-NII band has a higher frequency and a larger bandwidth allotment than the 2.4-GHz band, the 802.11a standard achieves speeds of up to 54 Mbps. However, it’s more limited in range than 802.11b. It uses an orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) encoding scheme rather than FHSS or DSSS.

IEEE 802.11g
802.11g is an extension of 802.11b and operates in the same 2.4-GHz band as 802.11b. It brings data rates up to 54 Mbps using OFDM technology.

Because it's actually an extension of 802.11b, 802.11g is backward-compatible with 802.11b—an 802.11b device can interface directly with an 802.11g access point. However, because 802.11g also runs on the same three channels as 802.11b, it can crowd already busy frequencies.

Super G® is a subset of 802.11g and is a proprietary extension of the 802.11g standard that doubles throughput to 108 Mbps. Super G is not an IEEE approved standard. If you use it, you should use devices from one vendor to ensure compatibility. Super G is generally backwards compatible with 802.11g.

802.11n
80211n improves upon 802.11g significantly with an increase in the data rate to 600 Mbps. Channels operate at 40 MHz doubling the channel width from 20 MHz. 802.11n operates on both the 2.4 GHz and the 5 GHz bands. 802.11n also added multiple-input multiple-output antennas (MIMO).

MIMO
Multiple-Input/Multiple-Output (MIMO) is a part of the new IEEE 802.11n wireless standard. It’s a technique that uses multiple signals to increase the speed, reliability, and coverage of wireless networks. It transmits multiple datastreams simultaneously, increasing wireless capacity to up to 100 or even 250 Mbps.

This wireless transmission method takes advantage of a radio transmission characteristic called multipath, which means that radio waves bouncing off surfaces such as walls and ceilings will arrive at the antenna at fractionally different times. This characteristic has long been considered to be a nuisance that impairs wireless transmission, but MIMO technology actually exploits it to enhance wireless performance.

MIMO sends a high-speed data stream across multiple antennas by breaking it into several lower-speed streams and sending them simultaneously. Each signal travels multiple routes for redundancy.

To pick up these multipath signals, MIMO uses multiple antennas and compares signals many times a second to select the best one. A MIMO receiver makes sense of these signals by using a mathematical algorithm to reconstruct the signals. Because it has multiple signals to choose from, MIMO achieves higher speeds at greater ranges than conventional wireless hardware does. collapse


Black Box Explains...Layer 2, 3, and 4 switches.



...more/see it now
OSI Layer Physical
Component
7-Application Applicaton Software

LAN-Compatible Software
E-Mail, Diagnostics, Word Processing, Database


Network Applications
6-Presentation Data-
Conversion Utilities
Vendor-Specific Network Shells and Gateway™ Workstation Software
5-Session Network Operating System SPX NetBIOS DECnet™ TCP/IP AppleTalk®
4-Transport Novell® NetWare® IPX™ PC LAN LAN Mgr DECnet PC/TCP® VINES™ NFS TOPS® Apple
Share®
3-Network Control
2-Data Link Network E A TR P TR E TR E E E P E P
1-Physical E=Ethernet; TR=Token Ring; A=ARCNET®; P=PhoneNET®

With the rapid development of computer networks over the last decade, high-end switching has become one of the most important functions on a network for moving data efficiently and quickly from one place to another.


Here’s how a switch works: As data passes through the switch, it examines addressing information attached to each data packet. From this information, the switch determines the packet’s destination on the network. It then creates a virtual link to the destination and sends the packet there.


The efficiency and speed of a switch depends on its algorithms, its switching fabric, and its processor. Its complexity is determined by the layer at which the switch operates in the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) Reference Model (see above).


OSI is a layered network design framework that establishes a standard so that devices from different vendors work together. Network addresses are based on this OSI Model and are hierarchical. The more details that are included, the more specific the address becomes and the easier it is to find.


The Layer at which the switch operates is determined by how much addressing detail the switch reads as data passes through.


Switches can also be considered low end or high end. A low-end switch operates in Layer 2 of the OSI Model and can also operate in a combination of Layers 2 and 3. High-end switches operate in Layer 3, Layer 4, or a combination of the two.


Layer 2 Switches (The Data-Link Layer)

Layer 2 switches operate using physical network addresses. Physical addresses, also known as link-layer, hardware, or MAC-layer addresses, identify individual devices. Most hardware devices are permanently assigned this number during the manufacturing process.


Switches operating at Layer 2 are very fast because they’re just sorting physical addresses, but they usually aren’t very smart—that is, they don’t look at the data packet very closely to learn anything more about where it’s headed.


Layer 3 Switches (The Network Layer)

Layer 3 switches use network or IP addresses that identify locations on the network. They read network addresses more closely than Layer 2 switches—they identify network locations as well as the physical device. A location can be a LAN workstation, a location in a computer’s memory, or even a different packet of data traveling through a network.


Switches operating at Layer 3 are smarter than Layer 2 devices and incorporate routing functions to actively calculate the best way to send a packet to its destination. But although they’re smarter, they may not be as fast if their algorithms, fabric, and processor don’t support high speeds.


Layer 4 Switches (The Transport Layer)

Layer 4 of the OSI Model coordinates communications between systems. Layer 4 switches are capable of identifying which application protocols (HTTP, SNTP, FTP, and so forth) are included with each packet, and they use this information to hand off the packet to the appropriate higher-layer software. Layer 4 switches make packet-forwarding decisions based not only on the MAC address and IP address, but also on the application to which a packet belongs.


Because Layer 4 devices enable you to establish priorities for network traffic based on application, you can assign a high priority to packets belonging to vital in-house applications such as Peoplesoft, with different forwarding rules for low-priority packets such as generic HTTP-based Internet traffic.


Layer 4 switches also provide an effective wire-speed security shield for your network because any company- or industry-specific protocols can be confined to only authorized switched ports or users. This security feature is often reinforced with traffic filtering and forwarding features.

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Black Box Explains...Choosing a wireless antenna.


Ride the wave.

One of the most critical components to operating a successful wireless network is having the right antennas. Antennas come in many different shapes and sizes,... more/see it noweach designed for a specific function. Selecting the right antennas for your network is crucial to achieving optimum network performance. In addition, using the right antennas can decrease your networking costs since you’ll need fewer antennas and access points.


Basically, a wireless network consists of data, voice, and video information packets being transmitted over low-frequency radio waves instead of electrically over copper cable or via light over fiber lines. The antenna acts as a radiator and transmits waves through the air, just like radio and TV stations. Antennas also receive the waves from the air and transport them to the receiver, which is a radio, TV, or in the case of wireless networking, a router or an access point.


Type cast.

The type of antennas you use depends on what type of network you’re setting up and the coverage you need. How large is your network? Is it for a home, single office, campus, or larger? Is it point-to-point or multipoint?


The physical design-walls, floors, etc.- of the building(s) you’re working in also affects the type and number of antennas you need. In addition, physical terrain affects your antenna choices. Obviously, a clear line of sight works best, but you need to consider obstructions such as trees, buildings, hills, and water. (Radio waves travel faster over land than water.) You even need to consider traffic noise in urban settings.


The ideal shape.

Let’s take a look at the different types of antennas.


Isotropic Antenna. First, think of the introduction to the old RKO movies. A huge tower sits on top of the world and emanates circular waves in all directions. If you could actually see the waves, they would form a perfect sphere around the tower. This type of antenna is called an isotropic antenna, and does not exist in the real world. It is theoretical and is used as a base point for measuring actual antennas.


Go in the right direction.

Now let’s turn to real-world antennas. There are many types of antennas that emit radio waves in different directions, shapes, and on different planes. Think of the spherical isotropic antenna. If squeezed from the sides, it will become shaped like a wheel and will concentrate waves on a vertical plane. If squeezed from the top, it will flatten out like a pancake and radiate waves on a horizontal plane. Thus, there are two basic types of antennas: directional and omnidirectional.


Directional antennas.

Directional antennas, primarily used in point-to-point networks, concentrate the waves in one direction much like a flashlight concentrates light in a narrow beam. Directional antennas include backfire, Yagi, dish, panel, and sector.


Backfire. This small directional antenna looks like a cake pan with a tin can in the middle. It’s designed to be compact, often under 11" in diameter, making it unobtrusive and practical for outdoor use. These antennas also offer excellent gain, and can be used in both point-to-point or point-to-multipoint systems.


Yagi. The Yagi-Uda (or Yagi) antenna is named for its Japanese inventors. The antenna was originally intended for radio use and is now frequently used in 802.11 wireless systems.


A Yagi antenna is highly directional. It looks like a long fishbone with a central spine and perpendicular rods or discs at specified intervals. Yagi antennas offer superior gain and highly vertical directionality. The longer the Yagi, the more focused its radiation is. Many outdoor Yagi antennas are covered in PVC so you can’t see the inner structure.


Yagi antennas are good for making point-to-point links in long narrow areas (for instance, connecting to a distant point in a valley) or for point-to-point links between buildings. They can also be used to extend the range of a point-to-multipoint network.


Parabolic or Dish. These antennas look like a circular or rectangular concave bowl or "dish". The backboard can be solid or a grid design. Parabolic grid designs are excellent for outdoor use since the wind blows right through them. The concave nature of this dish design focuses energy into a narrow beam that can travel long distances, even up to several miles. This makes parabolic antennas ideal for point-to-point network connections. Since they generate a narrow beam in both the horizontal and vertical planes, offer excellent gain, and minimize interference, they’re ideal for long-distance point-to-point networks.


Panel or Patch. These antennas are often square or rectangular, and they’re frequently hung on walls. They’re designed to radiate horizontally forward and to the side, but not behind them. Sometimes they’re called "picture-frame" antennas.


Panel antennas are ideal in applications where the access point is at one end of a building. They’re good for penetrating a single floor of a building, and for small and medium-size homes and offices. Since they might not have much vertical radiation, they might not be a good choice for multifloor applications.


Because panel antennas can be easily concealed, they’re a good choice when aesthetics are important.


Sector. A sector antenna can be any type of antenna that directs the radio waves in a specific area. They are often large, outdoor flat-panel or dish-type antennas mounted up high and tilted downward toward the ground. These antennas are often used in sprawling campus settings to cover large areas.


Omnidirectional antennas.

Omnidirectional antennas provide the widest coverage possible and are generally used in point-to-multipoint networks. Their range can be extended by overlapping circles of coverage from multiple access points. Most omnidirectional antennas emanate waves in a fan-shaped pattern on a horizontal plane. Overall, omnidirectional antennas have lower gain than directional antennas. Examples of omnidirectional antennas include: integrated, blade, and ceiling.


Integrated. Integrated antennas are antennas that are built into wireless networking devices. They may be embedded in PC card client adapters or in the covers or body of laptops or other devices, such as access points. Integrated antennas often do not offer the same reception as external antennas and might not pick up weak signals. Access points with integral antennas must often be moved or tilted to get the best reception.


Blade. These small, omnidirectional antennas are often housed in long, thin envelopes of plastic. They are most often used to pick up a signal in a low-signal or no-signal spot. You usually will see them on the walls of cubicles, mounted on desktops, or even hung above cubicles to catch signals. They’re basically an inexpensive signal booster.


Ceiling Dome. These are sometimes also called ceiling blister antennas. They look somewhat like a smoke detector and are designed for unobtrusive use in ceilings, particularly drop ceilings. Ceiling dome antennas often have a pigtail for easy connection to access points. They’re excellent for use in corporate environments where wide coverage over a cube farm is needed.


Wave basics.

To better understand wireless antennas and networking, there are some basic measurements and terms that need to be discussed.


Gain. One of the primary measurements of antennas is gain. Gain is measured as dBi, which is how much the antenna increases the transmitter’s power compared to the theoretical isotropic antenna, which has a gain of 0 dBi. dBi is the true gain the antenna provides to the transmitter’s output. Gain is also reciprocal-it’s the same transmitting and receiving. Higher gain means stronger sent and received signals. An easy way to remember gain basics is that every 3 dB of gain added doubles the effective power output of an antenna. The more an antenna concentrates a signal, the higher the gain it will have.


You can actually calculate the gains and losses of a system by adding up the gains and losses of its parts in decibels.


Frequency and Wavelength. Electromagnetic waves are comprised of two components: frequency and wavelength.


Frequency is how many waves occur each second. Wavelength is the distance between one peak of a wave and the next peak. Lower frequencies have longer wavelengths; higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths. For example, the frequency of AM radio is 1 MHz with a wavelength of about 1000 feet. FM radios operate at a much higher frequency of 100 MHz and have a wavelength of about 100 feet.


The two most common frequencies for wireless networking are 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz. Both are very high frequencies with very short wavelengths in the microwave band. The 2.4-GHz frequency has a wavelength of about 5 inches.


Beamwidth. Consider an antenna to be like a flashlight or spotlight. It reflects and directs the light (or radio waves) in a particular direction. Beamwidth actually measures how energy is focused or concentrated.


Polarization. This is the direction in which the antenna radiates wavelengths, either vertically, horizontally, or circularly. Vertical antennas have vertical polarization and are the most common. For optimum performance, it is important that the sending and receiving antennas have the same polarization.


VSWR and Return Loss. Voltage Standing Wave Ratio (VSWR) measures how well the antenna is matched to the network at the operating frequency being used. It indicates how much of the received signal won’t reach either the transceiver or receiver. Return loss measures how well matched an antenna is to the network. Typical VSWR numbers are 1:1.2 or 1:1.5. A typical return loss number is 20.

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Black Box Explains…Fiber Ethernet adapters vs. media converters.

When running fiber to the desktop, you have two choices for making the connection from the fiber to a PC: a fiber Ethernet adapter or a media converter like our... more/see it nowMicro Mini Media Converter.

Fiber Ethernet adapters:

  • Less expensive.
  • Create no desktop clutter, but the PC must be opened.
  • Powered from the PC—require no separate power provision.
  • Require an open PCI or PCI-E slot in the PC.
  • Can create driver issues that must be resolved.
  • May be required in high-security installations that require a 100% fiber link to the desktop.

  • Media converters:
  • More expensive.
  • No need to open the PC but can create a cluttered look.
  • Powered from an AC outlet or a PC’s USB port.
  • Don’t require an open slot in the PC.
  • Plug-and-play installation—totally transparent to data, so there are no driver problems; install in seconds.
  • The short copper link from media converter to PC may be a security vulnerability.
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