Networking Terms Everyone Confuses

What is that thing my ISP sent me?

What is this box for?

What is this box for?

We work very hard to keep tech jargon out of our conversations with clients, but there are certain terms which get used all the time anyway. The challenge is they are often used incorrectly or interchangeably which can lead to great confusion when talking about basic tech setups. Here are the most common:

Ethernet Cables - Also called Network Cables or Cat5e or Cat6. These are cables that snap into networking ports. They have 8 pins and 8 wires inside.

Phone Cables - These are like skinny Networking Cables and have 4 pins/wires. They are only for phone and fax traffic. If you have one plugged into your computer it’s either a mistake or a fax line. They will actually snap into Ethernet ports even though they are smaller, but won’t work for networking.

Coaxial Cables - These are fat, round cables with a connector which screws on. They usually come from the outside of the building to your Modem. Sometimes they are split and run to your TV as well.

IP Address - Your computer’s “street” address. Confusingly, there are Internet IP’s (visible to the world) and Local IP’s (visible only to your Home or Workplace) which are kind of like having the same exact street address in different zip codes. Most Local IP addresses start with 192.168.x.x.

Modem - This translates signal from a Cable, DSL or Fiber Optic line coming into your building into Ethernet. Just to confuse things: some Modems do other things as well like being Routers or WiFi Access

Router - A thing which sits between your local network and the internet and translates traffic from one set of IP Addresses to another. It’s very rare to have boxes which are just Routers; usually they do other things as well.

Switch - A thing which you can plug a bunch of Ethernet Cables into to connect different gear inside your home or workplace. Most switches treat all of their ports the same so you can plug anything in anywhere.

FireWall - Thingy which filters internet traffic and protects your privacy. Just to confuse things: Routers and Firewalls are often in the same box.

WiFi Access Point - A thing which creates an invisible cable between you and the local network. It’s just a switch without the wires. Just to confuse things: most WiFi Access Points can also be Routers, Firewalls and they usually have several networking ports making them Switches as well. These functions must be turned off if not needed.

A way to think about cabling is to draw a number of squares on a piece of paper; one for each box that you have in your network. Then draw lines for each cable from one device to the next. The devices are (almost) always in the following order although you don’t have to have all of them:

If you have a bunch of boxes: (Internet)—> Modem—> Firewall—> Router—> Switch—> WiFi Access Point \


If you just have two: (Internet)—> Modem—> Router/Firewall/Switch/WiFi Access Point

I hope this helps as a reference guide. You don’t have to memorize this, just book mark it and if you need it someday, you’ll know how to talk good! At least tech wise…

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