FastEthernet refers to a set of network standards for data transfer speeds that exceed the original Ethernet speed of 10 megabits per second (mbps). Hardware and software that support FastEthernet can provide speeds up to 100 mbps. Original Ethernet is sometimes referred to as 10Base-T, for 10 mbps baseband data transmission over twist pair. “Twisted pair” is one type of copper Ethernet cabling used in networking. FastEthernet is also known as 100Base-T, though there are other designations as well for other types of cabling.
While FastEthernet improved network speed ten-fold, it is now only a mid-range Ethernet architecture. Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) operates ten times faster than FastEthernet, at speeds of 1 gigabit per second (gbps), or 1000Base-T, and faster. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) publication 802x sets the technical standards for LANs so that networking hardware is interoperable or compatible within its class. There are several different standards for each class of Ethernet LAN.
For example, standard Ethernet 10Base-T runs over twisted pair cables with a maximum distance of 328 feet (100 meters). 10Base-2 designates standard Ethernet over coaxial cable, or Thinnet. The maximum distance for this type of Ethernet is about 607 feet (185 meters). There are eight more types of cabling for standard Ethernet under the IEEE 802 specifications.
FastEthernet has five different cabling standards outlined by IEEE 802, with 100Base-X being a general designation. Ethernet cabling is defined by Category designations, dictated by its technical specifications. Hence, Category 5 cable, for example, is sometimes referred to as Cat-5 cable for short. FastEthernet includes the following standards and options:
- 100Base-FX – FastEthernet over dual multimode optical fiber cables
- 100Base-TX – Two shielded twisted pair cables, Category 4 grade
- 100Base-T – Two twisted pair cables
- 100Base-T2 – Two unshielded twisted pair cables, Category 3 or better
- 100Base-T4 – Four unshielded twisted pair cables, Category 3 or better
Gigabit Ethernet has its own classifications under IEEE 802, including 10Gigabit Ethernet with speeds up to 10-billion bits per second. This type of LAN uses optical fiber cabling and has a maximum distance of 984 feet (300 meters) for multimode fiber cable, and nearly 25 miles (40 kilometers) for single-mode optical cable.
Hardware for a faster LAN usually requires more initial investment than a slower one. However, if the speed is required, it pays for itself over time in productivity. On the other hand, a small business office may see a point in diminishing returns when considering an ultra-fast GbE over a less-expensive, but still very effective FastEthernet LAN.