Hand holding fiber optic cord with Ethernet cables and network switching hub.

Ethernet is a network communication protocol designed to link network appliances, switches, and routers. Ethernet functions in a wired or wireless network, including wide area networks (WAN) and local area networks (LAN).

Advancement in Ethernet technology resulted from various network needs such as system application to both large and small platforms, security issues, network dependability, and bandwidth requirements.

Specifically, the demands for higher bandwidth capacity for high-quality video transmission and uninterrupted video streaming brought upon the development of Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet.

In this piece, we’ll explain how the two are different and what you need to consider when selecting an Ethernet data protocol.

Fast Ethernet

Ethernet was standardized in the mid-80s as IEEE 802.3 and continues to develop and improve with dependability and speed. Standard Ethernet speeds averaged at about 10 megabits per second and reached higher speeds of about 15 megabits per second.

Fast Ethernet is a version of Ethernet standards, initiated in 1995 as IEEE 802.3u. Fast Ethernet focused on increased network and network appliance speed over standard Ethernet and Ethernet devices. Fast Ethernet provided uniform operability for data transmission at over 100 megabits per second.

It is designed for 100 Base T networks and is also compatible with 10 Base T networks, allowing users to benefit from faster Ethernet speeds (with the use of compatible switches) without having to completely upgrade their network systems.

Fast Ethernet transmission is at least 10 times faster than standard Ethernet and proves to be useful in maintaining compatible connections to high-speed servers, reducing bandwidth bottlenecks for network systems operating multiple IP video cameras and IoT, and seamlessly supporting complex networks that run multiple bandwidth-intensive software packages at the same time.

Fast Ethernet appliances and devices can run on unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cabling such as Category 5 and higher rated cables. However, the maximum length and effectiveness of UTP cabling is 100 meters and bandwidth can be limited.

Fiber optic transmission allows for longer distance and greater bandwidth capacity over UTP cabling, permitting Fast Ethernet network appliances and devices to deliver at full potential.

Gigabit Ethernet

Fiber Optic and Network cables connected to ports

Gigabit Ethernet is the latest version of Ethernet standards, initiated in 1999 as IEEE 802.3ab and in 2004 as IEEE 802.3ah. Gigabit Ethernet provided uniform standards for 1000 megabits per second, or 1 gigabit per second, network transmission. Standard IEEE 802.3ab defined Gigabit Ethernet’s applicability for 1000 Base T networks and allowed use of existing UTP cabling.

The IEEE 802.3ab standard certified Gigabit Ethernet applicability for both industry and desktop users working with the existing Category 5 cables. Standard IEEE 802.3ah certified additional 1000 Base T network protocols, specifically 1000 Base LX10 and 1000 Base BX10 for multi-mode fiber and fiber optic transmissions, respectively.

Gigabit Ethernet network appliances and devices can transfer data packets at rates much faster than Fast Ethernet. A Fast Ethernet switch can transfer data packets at a rate of 10 megabits per second. A Gigabit Ethernet switch transfers data packets at relatively higher speeds of one gigabit per second.

In comparison, a Gigabit Ethernet switch can transfer data packets at around 100 times faster than a Fast Ethernet switch. Gigabit Ethernet can meet increasingly complex network demands such as connecting multiple bandwidth-intensive devices and broadband internet connections for video streaming.

Gigabit Ethernet applications include gigabit switches that can manage data transfer between multiple IP security cameras and network appliances, and gigabit switches that support video and other high-quality signal transfer between home servers and high-definition televisions and monitors.

Choosing Between Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet

Users and organizations should evaluate which Ethernet data protocol is beneficial for their operation. Small operations may meet their network needs and benefit from the less expensive Fast Ethernet improvement.

However, the same small operation may also benefit from Gigabit Ethernet devices if they want to incorporate high-quality IP surveillance cameras with on-demand high-quality video streaming.

It is important to evaluate the existing network system, available bandwidth, operational needs, and future network configuration, desired network system upgrades, and facility limitations when choosing the right Ethernet data protocol.

Comparing Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet:

When evaluating the two options, here are the main differences you should consider.

  • Cost – Fast Ethernet is less expensive than Gigabit Ethernet.
  • Configuration – Fast Ethernet is simpler to configure and manage than Gigabit Ethernet.
  • Compatibility – Fast Ethernet is backwards compatible and can support and benefit standard network systems.
  • Applicability – Unlike Gigabit Ethernet, Fast Ethernet does not require specifically designed network appliances and devices.
  • Scalability – Gigabit Ethernet is more scalable than Fast Ethernet and is applicable for residential, commercial, and large industrial uses.
  • Speed – Gigabit Ethernet is 100 times faster than Fast Ethernet.
  • Space – Gigabit Ethernet uses relatively smaller hardware and less cabling than Fast Ethernet, resulting in more availability of physical space and less room requirements.
  • Distance – Gigabit Ethernet covers more distance than Fast Ethernet (70 km vs. 10 km, respectively).
  • Virtual Networks – Gigabit Ethernet can configure and easily manage virtual networks due to its high bandwidth potential.

Still Deciding Between the Two? ComNet’s Design Center Can Help

ComNet’s Design Center is here to support you with one-on-one technical pre-sale telephone assistance. The ComNet Design Center service is free for customers interested in using ComNet fiber optic products in their designs. Click here to connect with a Design Center representative.

You can also see our full line of Ethernet products by clicking the box below.