A wired connection generally provides better stability, lower latency, and higher throughput than a WiFi connection. However, unlike WiFi connection where you can connect multiple devices to a single router, the number of wired connections you can have is limited by the number of physical ports available.
As such, if you find yourself with more devices requiring a physical connection than there are ports available, you might need to simply add more ports. An ethernet splitter, hub, or switch could serve your purpose, but there are some fundamental differences in the way they operate.
Splitters are the cheapest while switches are the best for managing network traffic. In what other ways do splitters, hub, and switches differ? Read on to find out and decide which is the best for you.
A splitter is a simple device that usually has one input port and two output ports, or vice versa. This divides the 4 twisted pairs of a CAT5 or CAT6 cable at one end to 2 pairs each at the other end.
This device can be used to share an internet connection between two devices. However, only one device can connect to the internet at one time. Furthermore, splitters design follow 100BASE-T ethernet standard (fast ethernet), meaning data transfer rate is limited to 100 Mbits/sec.
One common use for a splitter is if you are connecting two devices to two router ports over long distance but do not have enough cable length to establish a one-to-one connection. You can use a splitter to connect the two router ports and connect a single CAT5/6 cable to the output end.
Then you’d need to connect the CAT 5/6 cable at the other end to another splitter and connect the two devices to the splitter output. This way, you can get away with using a single cable instead of two.
- Cheap and cost effective.
- Reduces the amount of CAT5 or CAT6 cables to use when configured properly.
- Passive, requires no external power source.
- Only one device can connect to the internet at a time.
- Limited to 100 Mbits/sec bandwidth.
- Unsuitable for connecting multiple devices.
If you have multiple devices that you need to connect to a single ethernet port on your router or modem, then you can do that with an ethernet hub.
A hub amplifies the signal of connecting devices. This is necessary because as the number of devices connected to the hub increases, there is a chance that some signal might be lost due to interference.
This is because the hub only operates in OSI layer 1, which is the physical layer. This layer oversees establishing connections between devices, but does not track them. Thus data sent via ethernet is copied and sent to all the clients connected to the hub (broadcasted) without regard to the correct destination.
This also means that data sent and received via a hub have no security and all connected devices listen to all traffic that goes through it.
Hubs are half-duplex devices that do not support simultaneous data sending or receiving.
Hubs are useful when you have a small number of devices to connect. Connecting too many devices simultaneously can result in data holdups and collison, resulting in network congestion.
Most hubs available in the market are active, needing an external power source. However, passive hubs are also available.
- Simpler and cheaper than a switch.
- A hub can be used to monitor data packets for diagnostic purposes.
- Hubs operate on broadcast mode, which has minimal impact on network performance.
- Connecting multiple devices can lead to network congestions.
- Data security and privacy is absent.
- Does not support full-duplex mode.
The Ethernet switch is an evolution of the hub. Just like the hub, you can use a single ethernet port in your router or modem to connect multiple devices.
Unlike the hub, however, a switch is a smart device which operates on OSI layer 2 (data link layer). It keeps track of MAC addresses of connections being established. Since MAC addresses are unique, this allows the switch to send and receive data to specific devices.
Some switches also operate on OSI layer 3 (network layer) and can track IP addresses as well. This allows data redirection through IP addresses assigned by the network.
Thus, a switch can route data intelligently, which reduces data collision and network congestion. Because it keeps track of MAC addresses, it also inherently provides some measure of data security and privacy. This also allows it to manage network bandwidth efficiently.
Switches allow full-duplex data transmission. Thus, networking over a switch is much faster than over a hub.
Ethernet switches are active devices that require external power to operate. This can come in the form of a power adapter. Alternatively, if the device supports it, you can also power it via Power over Ethernet (PoE).
- Suitable for a large number of connected devices.
- Flexible with the number of connections.
- Can handle high traffic volume without congestion.
- Provides data security and privacy.
- Supports full duplex communication.
- Requires external power.
- Requires periodic maintenance.
- More expensive than a hub or splitter.
What device you should pick to increase your available ports comes down to your use case and requirements.
If you are only looking to add additional port, do not mind being limited to 100 Mbits/sec bandwidth, and not being able to use two devices to connect to the internet simultaneously, then a splitter is your device. Not only are they very cheap, you will also not need to worry about maintenance and configuration.
For connecting a small number of devices (around 4-6), a hub can be an excellent device. Your devices will be limited to half-duplex communications, and you will miss out on features such as bandwidth management, data security and privacy. However, these factors might not matter much for a home network. They are also plug and play, meaning you won’t need to worry about configuration.
An ethernet switch is essential if you have a large number of devices (up to 50) that needs wired connections. This can be a great option for setting up a large network that deals with plenty of network traffic. It can manage bandwidth efficiently, and provides data security and privacy, which is absent from the other two options.
However, switches needs to be configured properly and maintained periodically. Thus, a switch might be best suited if you are setting up a network in an office or a work place.
Comparison Between Ethernet Splitter, Hub, and Switch
The following table highlights the differences between an ethernet splitter, hub and switch based upon various different factors.
|Use||Connect two devices to a single port||Connect a few devices to a single port||Connect multiple devices to a single port, create a LAN|
|Plug n play||Yes||Yes||No|
|Installation||Easy to install.||Requires some knowledge regarding installation||Needs to be installed professionally|
|Maintenance||Install and forget||Some maintenance required||Requires periodic maintenance|
|Data security and privacy||None||None||Provided|
|Cost||Cheapest||Slightly cheaper than a switch||The most expensive|