A computer network, often simply referred to as a network, is a collection of hardware components and computers interconnected by communication channels that allow sharing of resources and information.
Networks may be classified according to a wide variety of characteristics such as the medium used to transport the data, communications protocol used, scale, topology, and organizational scope.
The rules and data formats for exchanging information in a computer network are defined by communications protocols. Well-known communications protocols are Ethernet, a hardware and Link Layer standard that is ubiquitous in local area networks, and the Internet Protocol Suite, which defines a set of protocols for internetworking, i.e. for data communication between multiple networks, as well as host-to-host data transfer, and application-specific data transmission formats.
Computer networking is sometimes considered a sub-discipline of electrical engineering, telecommunications, computer science, information technology or computer engineering, since it relies upon the theoretical and practical application of these disciplines.
Twisted pair wire is the most widely used medium for telecommunication. Twisted-pair cabling consist of copper wires that are twisted into pairs. Ordinary telephone wires consist of two insulated copper wires twisted into pairs. Computer networking cabling (wired Ethernet as defined by IEEE 802.3) consists of 4 pairs of copper cabling that can be utilized for both voice and data transmission. The use of two wires twisted together helps to reduce crosstalk and electromagnetic induction. The transmission speed ranges from 2 million bits per second to 10 billion bits per second. Twisted pair cabling comes in two forms which are Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) and Shielded twisted-pair (STP) which are rated in categories which are manufactured in different increments for various scenario.
Coaxial cable is widely used for cable television systems, office buildings, and other work-sites for local area networks. The cables consist of copper or aluminum wire wrapped with insulating layer typically of a flexible material with a high dielectric constant, all of which are surrounded by a conductive layer. The layers of insulation help minimize interference and distortion. Transmission speed range from 200 million to more than 500 million bits per second.
ITU-T G.hn technology uses existing home wiring (coaxial cable, phone lines and power lines) to create a high-speed (up to 1 Gigabit/s) local area network.
Optical fiber cable consists of one or more filaments of glass fiber wrapped in protective layers that carries data by means of pulses of light. It transmits light which can travel over extended distances. Fiber-optic cables are not affected by electromagnetic radiation. Transmission speed may reach trillions of bits per second. The transmission speed of fiber optics is hundreds of times faster than for coaxial cables and thousands of times faster than a twisted-pair wire. This capacity may be further increased by the use of colored light, i.e., light of multiple wavelengths. Instead of carrying one message in a stream of monochromatic light impulses, this technology can carry multiple signals in a single fiber.
Terrestrial microwave – Terrestrial microwaves use Earth-based transmitter and receiver. The equipment looks similar to satellite dishes. Terrestrial microwaves use low-gigahertz range, which limits all communications to line-of-sight. Path between relay stations spaced approx, 48 km (30 mi) apart.
Communications satellites – The satellites use microwave radio as their telecommunications medium which are not deflected by the Earth's atmosphere. The satellites are stationed in space, typically 35,400 km (22,000 mi) (for geosynchronous satellites) above the equator. These Earth-orbiting systems are capable of receiving and relaying voice, data, and TV signals.
Cellular and PCS systems – Use several radio communications technologies. The systems are divided to different geographic areas. Each area has a low-power transmitter or radio relay antenna device to relay calls from one area to the next area.
Wireless LANs – Wireless local area network use a high-frequency radio technology similar to digital cellular and a low-frequency radio technology. Wireless LANs use spread spectrum technology to enable communication between multiple devices in a limited area. An example of open-standards wireless radio-wave technology is IEEE 802.11.
Infrared communication can transmit signals between devices within small distances of typically no more than 10 meters. In most cases, line-of-sight propagation is used, which limits the physical positioning of communicating devices.
A global area network (GAN) is a network used for supporting mobile across an arbitrary number of wireless LANs, satellite coverage areas, etc. The key challenge in mobile communications is handing off the user communications from one local coverage area to the next. In IEEE Project 802, this involves a succession of terrestrial wireless LANs.