Unlike the case with many other Ethernet references, the term Gigabit Ethernet does not refer to a specific network or a means of accessing the internet itself. Instead, it covers a variety of technologies which meet a certain standard, allowing them to transfer data across an Ethernet network at a rate of 1 gigabit per second.
This is equivalent to 1,000,000,000 (one billion) bits of information. A bit is a single point of data—in computer parlance, it’s a 1 or a 0, indicating a switch in the on or the off position. It is the most basic unit for measuring computer data. The more familiar “byte” of information is commonly measured at 8 bits. This would make the Gigabit equivalent to about 125 megabytes of information.
For some, this may be somewhat confusing, as a “gigabyte” is equal to roughly 1,024 megabytes. It is important to remember that “bit” and “byte” are never the same thing!
Uses of Gigabit Ethernet Technology
Gigabit Ethernet technology has been in existence since 1999, though it became conveniently affordable as a widespread replacement for previous protocols in 2010. Its use has expanded dramatically since that time, and it now serves as the backbone for many local area networks (LANs). These are networks, like miniature versions of the internet, which are maintained by government agencies, private corporations, universities, and other large organizations.
Accessing a LAN usually requires direct interaction with a computer that is physically connected to the network. This usually means visiting a particular building, or in some cases a professional or academic campus. LANs are popular, secure, and high-speed options for exchanging information between computers without having to rely upon the public internet.
Alternative Technologies Present Limited Functionality
The most recently available technology to present itself along similar lines is 10-Gigabit Ethernet. This is significantly faster than Gigabit Ethernet, but is presently not widely available. It struggles with such issues as prohibitive cost, as well as a lack of demand: Gigabit Ethernet is more than sufficient to meet the needs of most individual organizations.
A standard hard drive in today’s personal computers is limited, based upon its maximum RPMs, to approximately 100 megabytes per second of data transfer internally. This, compared to Gigabit Ethernet’s maximum potential of about 125 megabytes, already allows for some room to grow.
Additionally, while some protocols support the use of Gigabit Ethernet over fiber optics, its speeds may be maintained via copper wiring. 10-Gigabit Ethernet cannot be carried on copper wiring, which further restricts its availability—making Gigabit Ethernet a more economically and functionally viable option for providing the backbone to private networks.
Predictions for the Future
Gigabit Ethernet is backwards-compatible with computers and networks that cannot handle its rate of data transfer, while functional—with existing technology—via the latest types of cable available. In a world where millions of people still subscribe to dialup internet within the United States alone, the relatively recent innovation of Gigabit Ethernet is likely to remain a viable option for internet and LAN connectivity for many years to come.