Types of network devices to use when you build a network


A network can't exist unless each of the devices has the means of communicating with another. This fact applies whether it's your organization's network or more extensive networks, like the web. All networks are built on the same principles.

In this unit, you learn about the term network standards and explore the hardware that forms the backbone of any network.

Network standards

While network protocols provide a unified method for communication, network standards govern the hardware and software that uses them.

Today, there are hundreds of thousands of hardware suppliers, yet all of their technology seamlessly integrates with your computer or network with minimal effort. Network standards provide a framework that enables the interoperability between devices.

Network standards improve the interoperability of different network-enabled devices and provide backward compatibility between product revisions and differing vendors. Official bodies that publish regulated standards are the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

It would be impossible to build networks and connect network-enabled devices reliably without network standards.

The 802 family of standards

The 802 specification covers all the physical networking standards for both Ethernet and wireless. The following table shows some of the more widely used standards.

802 Overview Basics of physical and logical networking concepts
802.1 Bridging LAN/MAN bridging and management of the lower sublayers of OSI Layer 2
802.2 Logical Link Commonly referred to as the logical link control (LLC) specification
802.3 Ethernet Provides asynchronous networking by using carrier sense, multiple accesses with collision detect (CSMA/CD) over coaxial cable, twisted-pair copper cable, and fiber media
802.5 Token ring The token-passing standard for shielded copper cables and twisted-pair cable
802.11 Wi-Fi Wireless local area network (WLAN) media access control (MAC) and physical layer (PHY) specification
802.11a Wi-Fi Specifies a PHY that operates in 5 GHz
802.11b Wi-Fi Enhances 802.11, adds higher data rate modes
802.11d Wi-Fi Enhances 802.11a/b, allows for global roaming
802.11e Wi-Fi Enhances 802.11, adds Quality of Service (QoS) features
802.11g Wi-Fi Extends WLAN maximum data rate
802.11 h Wi-Fi Enhances 802.11a, now resolves interference issues
802.11i Wi-Fi Enhances 802.11, adds security for WLAN applications
802.11j Wi-Fi Enhances 802.11a for Japanese regulatory extensions
802.11n Wi-Fi Higher-speed standards
802.12 Demand Priority Ethernet data rate increased to 100 Mbps
802.15 Wireless personal area networks Support for wireless personal area networks (WPANs)
802.15.1 Bluetooth Short-range (10 m) wireless technology
802.15.3a UWB Short-range, high-bandwidth ultra-wideband (UWB) link
802.15.4 ZigBee Short-range wireless sensor networks
802.16 Wireless metropolitan area networks Covers mobile and wireless broadband access in wireless metropolitan area networks (WMANs)

Network infrastructure

There are several network standard-compliant devices that make up the structure of your networks. Depending on the network's size, you might use several of these devices to build the backbone of your network. These devices are:

  • Repeaters
  • Hubs
  • Bridges
  • Switches
  • Routers

Nearly all of these devices depend on a media access control or an Internet Protocol (IP) address to deliver data on the network.

What is a media access control address?

The media access control (MAC) address is a unique identifier assigned to every network-enabled device at the time of manufacture. It's sometimes referred to as the burned-in address, the Ethernet hardware address, or a physical address.

A screenshot showing a network device's address information as returned when running the ipconfig /all command.

The MAC address has a standard composition of six hexadecimal numbers separated by a colon or dash. The first three numbers of the MAC address define the manufacturer's organizationally unique identifier (OUI), and the remaining three numbers uniquely identify the device. For example, if the MAC address is AA-6A-BA-2B-68-C1 then the OUI is AA-6A-BA and 2B-68-C1 is the device ID.


A repeater is a two-port device that repeats network signals. Repeaters are used when network devices are some distance from each other. The repeater doesn't modify or interpret data packets before it resends them, and it doesn't amplify the signal. Instead, it regenerates the data packet at the original strength, bit by bit.


A bridge divides a network into network segments, and can filter and forward data packets between these segments. Bridges use the network device's MAC address to decide the data package's destination. Typically, a bridge is used to improve network performance by reducing unnecessary network traffic on network segments.


A hub acts as a multiport repeater on a network. Hubs are used to connect more than one device and structure the layout of a network. For example, you can cascade hubs to create network branches, or as an endpoint to create a star layout with multiple-user-type devices. Hubs contain multiple ports that act as an input/output Ethernet connection between the hub and a network device. A hub can operate at only one speed, which is the speed of the slowest network device on the network. It doesn't interpret or filter data packets, and sends copies of each data packet to all attached devices.

Types of hubs

  • Fast Ethernet: This hub is used for 100-Mbps networks, and comes as Class I and Class II type hubs. The primary difference between the two is the amount of delay in data transmission. A Class I hub introduces a signal delay of up to 140-bit times. A Class II hub has a delay of up to 96-bit times. The delay allows for the transcoding of data between different base types. Only two Class II hubs can be used in a hub-based network. Class II hubs increase the likelihood of packet collisions because of their higher speeds.
  • Dual speed: With a traditional hub network, the slowest attached device governs the speed of the network. For example, if you had 10-Mbps and 100-Mbps devices connected to a network, the speed of the whole network was only 10 Mbps. Dual-speed hubs solve the problem by acting as a bridge between the two different-speed devices.

Hubs are used for small ad-hoc networks of a few devices, but they're rarely used at an enterprise level.


A switch combines the functionality of a bridge and a hub. It segments networks and can interpret and filter packet data to send it directly to an attached network device. Switches use the network device's MAC address to decide the data package's destination. A switch operates in full-duplex mode, which means it can send and receive data to and from network devices at the same time.


Modern Ethernet-based switches offer more functionality and capabilities than an Ethernet hub.

  • An Ethernet switch can adjust the connection speed of an inbound packet to match the connection speed of the destination network.
  • Many switches now support Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE enables network devices like Voice over IP (VoIP) phones to get power from the switch without needing a separate power supply.
  • Other modules can be attached to the switch to enable functions like port mirroring, packet sniffers, and intrusion-detection systems.

Types of Ethernet switch

The two distinct types of switch are unmanaged and managed.


This type of switch has no configuration capability, and is designed for small-office or home-office environments. Packet switching occurs automatically.


This type of switch offers the means to adjust the configuration, behavior, and operation of the switch. Access to the switch configuration is either through a command-line interface (CLI) that uses Telnet or Secure Shell (SSH), Remote Console, or via a web interface.

Here's a list of the more commonly available options to configure on a managed switch. Keep in mind that switch manufacturers might offer different configuration options.

  • Quality of Service: Manage LAN traffic so that critical systems are given higher priority. An example is voice-data packets, which need to be delivered quickly.
  • Virtual LANs: Create logical groups of devices in their own virtual LAN. Traffic in one virtual LAN doesn't cross over into another virtual LAN. This logical group of devices can improve the security and performance of the network.
  • Spanning Tree Protocol (STP): Build resilience into your network by defining alternative network routes in case a cable or device fails.
  • Port mirroring: Use with a network analyzer to diagnose network issues and problems. During setup, the switch exports a copy of the network traffic to a single port.
  • Bandwidth rate-limiting: Allow fine control of the bandwidth used by specific ports. For example, allowing a high bandwidth for ports handling database or VoIP, and lower bandwidths for email.
  • MAC address filtering: Control which network devices can be used or have access through the switch.
  • SNMP client: Set up and configure SNMP with your network monitoring tools.

There are two subtypes of managed switches:

  • Smart: A smart switch is a halfway point between an unmanaged and a managed switch. They tend to offer only a web-based interface to manage the configuration. The available options are virtual LANs, port mirroring, and bandwidth rate limiting.
  • Enterprise: The fully managed switch service previously described.


Routers link networks with different ranged addresses together. They can interpret and filter data packets, and then forward them to the correct network. Routers use the network device's IP address information to route the data package to its destination. Most routers can now detect issues with data traffic that flows to any attached network and route or reroute it around the issue. A router is also called a gateway. When you configure network devices, you usually configure them with a default gateway IP address.


Routers in an interconnected network maintain a routing table that lists the preferred route between each of the networks. The router acts as the start of authority for all the network devices on its network. Routing information is shared between routers by using a routing protocol like the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP).


Most routers use the BGP to share routing information. The type of information shared depends on the usage of the router and the functions they use.

There are several distinct classifications or types of routers available to service different network needs.

  • Access routers: These routers tend to be low-cost devices with a simple routing need. They're typically used in a home or small satellite offices.
  • Distribution routers: These routers compile traffic routing data from multiple routers. Distribution routers come with more significant memory and processing power. This type of router is designed to hold vast quantities of routing information. It's often used to manage and control the quality of service across a WAN.
  • Edge routers: An edge router operates at the boundary between your network and other networks; for example, your local network and the internet. They act as gateways to filter traffic and route it internally or forward it based on the packet header. An edge router often comes with access control or firewalls to improve the security. It might also handle DHCP and DNS services.
  • Core routers: Sometimes called enterprise routers, these routers are designed for higher bandwidths. They're used to connect different buildings or geographic locations together. Core routers tend to have fewer features than edge routers because their primary focus is on minimizing packet loss and preventing congestion. They tend to do packet forwarding to edge routers.

Wireless router

This network device provides all the routing capabilities of a regular access router, but it also offers wireless access point functions. A wireless router or wireless access point is designed to provide a nonwired connection to your network. An edge router associated with your network handles any provision to access the internet or other networks. A wireless router lets you build a different type of network called a wireless local area network.

A wireless router shouldn't be confused with a wireless modem. A wireless modem is what you receive from your ISP for your home or office. It's the device that converts the signal from the ISP into one that's usable on a computer network. Wireless modems are typically combined with routers to allow you to create a private home or office network.

Azure options

Two Azure options can help with routing and managing network traffic.

Azure hub-spoke

Azure hub-spoke is a reference architecture. The hub is usually an Azure virtual network that acts as the central connection point between the cloud and an on-premises network. Each spoke is also an Azure virtual network, connected to the hub via a peer network. Connections between the cloud and the on-premises network can be made through a VPN gateway or Azure ExpressRoute.

Azure ExpressRoute

An ExpressRoute connection is a dedicated circuit between an on-premises network and the cloud that uses a higher bandwidth than a regular VPN gateway connection. A connectivity partner hosts an ExpressRoute circuit and provides a super-resilient connection.

Check your knowledge


What are network standards used for?


What is the primary purpose of a hub?


What is the principal difference between hub routing and switch routing?


What does a router do?