How Fast Does Your Network Need to Be?

Even the fastest network isn’t as fast as a modern PC. When your employees load applications or files off the network, delays can interrupt the flow of their work and reduce productivity. But you can cut delays by making your network as fast as technology and your budget allow.

Traditional networks, which transfer data through cables and hardware routers, still offer the best performance. Ethernet, the most common traditional LAN signaling method, transfers up to 10Mbps, which is usually good enough for networks with up to 50 users. Fast Ethernet, a newer and more expensive alternative, offers speeds up to 100Mbps — enough speed to satisfy large corporations with hundreds of employees. An even faster new standard, Gigabit Ethernet, is too expensive for most emerging businesses, although it might be practical for companies that routinely move large graphics files or run certain types of client-server applications.

So-called instant LANs aren’t as fast as Ethernet, and their speeds vary depending on the vendor and the technology. Wireless LAN systems using the 802.11b standard (such as Apple Computer’s AirPort system) might run up to 10MBps, although most wireless LANs don’t run at their maximum possible speed. Other networking technologies are much slower: The Intelogis PassPort network, which uses AC power lines, transfers data at speeds up to 350Kbps; Intel’s AnyPoint network, which you can use with your existing phone lines, runs at up to 1Mbps; and wireless LANs, such as Zoom Telephonics’ ZoomAir, can handle up to 2Mbps.

How fast is fast enough? Given the speed and power of today’s computers, as well as the fact that even routine desktop applications handle large files, most businesses should avoid networking systems that deliver much less than 10Mbps. Wireless 802.11b LANs have a number of advantages, and they deliver enough speed to satisfy most business users. But other networking technologies, including those using phone and power lines to transmit data, are too slow and unreliable for business users.