What Is A Network Switch?

by Jeff Atkins on December 19, 2019
what is a network switch

Knowing whether or not you need a network switch might seem confusing, but once you know the basics about them, you will be able to make a simple and informed decision. In their simplest form, network switches simply allow more ethernet ports to be added to your router.

For the average person, you likely use WiFi for all of your devices; however, if you have a lot of devices on your WiFi, it can slow down the connection. Ethernet allows for your devices to be wired right into the router itself. But if you have too many devices, such as with an entertainment center, or want to run ethernet throughout your house, you will likely need a network switch to increase the number of ports. In this article we will help cover everything there is to know about what is a network switch.

What is a Network Switch?

A network switch looks like a home base. It is a small box that has numerous ethernet ports on it and usually some form of lighting to show quickly what ports are being used at any time. The network switch will likely be installed near your router but this is not required if you are planning to run ethernet throughout your house.

Network switches aren’t known for being modern or nice looking, so it is important to find a place to put the switch where it is out of the way. Most network switches are very simple and function very similarly in that they are a vessel to add more ethernet ports to the router. They do not necessarily add any additional functionality to the router.

When is a Network Switch Necessary?

A network switch is necessary when there are too few ethernet ports on the router. This could be for a variety of reasons. For example, if you want to install an entertainment system, you will likely need a network switch. In this case, all of the pieces of the entertainment center are will probably be installed in the same general area so the network switch can be placed in a central location without much wiring.

Another situation where a network switch could be helpful is for devices located across your house which you want to be wired into the internet including desktop computers, televisions, or gaming consoles. Having all of those devices on wifi could cause a slower connection for not only the device itself but other technologies that need wifi such as your phone or smart home systems.

Additionally, you should note that ethernet cables tend to be most efficient when they are less than a hundred feet long so you may need to find a central location if you are wiring your entire house for ethernet.

what is a network switch

How Can a Network Switch Make a Difference in My Wifi? 

Network switches do not directly affect the speed or connection to your wifi. Having large streaming devices such as smart televisions or gaming systems can bog down your wifi though which in turn can cause slower connections across your network.

Installing a network switch for those larger devices that drag down the speed of your wifi is one way to relieve the pressure on your router. Keep in mind that your router does have a few ethernet ports on it that can be used before needing a network switch.

I Want to Buy a Network Switch, What are the Next Steps?

It is important to first determine if you need to run more ethernet cables or if where you live is already wired for ethernet. If you live in an apartment or rent and it is not wired with ethernet, then it is unlikely you will be able to do anything to change it.

When you know what you want to wire and where the wires need to go you can choose a place for the network switch itself. The location should be out of the way as a network switch is not designed to be aesthetically pleasing but functional. Ethernet cable cannot transfer data when it is longer than 100 meters (328 Feet) so measuring where wiring would need to go in relation to the network switch must be done early in the process.

If you have a large area you need to cover with wiring, it might be worth considering a mesh networking kit which significantly reduces the amount of wiring that needs to be done but is not quite as powerful or consistent as a true network switch. A mesh networking kit will spread wifi to all areas of your house instead of having it at just one location. Even with one of these kits though, the issue of slow WiFi due to too many devices still arises.

After you decide your best plan of action, it is time to purchase everything you will need. If it is an extensive project and you are not confident in your electrical or wiring knowledge, an electrician or electrical contractor can really help.

For those of you who are confident in your wiring abilities, it is time to pick the best cable for your needs. Our article, ‘What is an Ethernet Cable?’ outlines the best options for picking a cable. Though there are a handful of options a Category 6 (Cat 6) cable works great in homes as it is fast but not super bulky and can handle more than a normal router outputs so there is room to grow.

Finally, it is necessary to purchase wall jacks, mounting plates, and wall plates.

The Benefits of Having a Network Switch

A network switch is not for every household; however, it is something to think about purchasing if you have more ethernet-able devices than your router can handle. A network switch is also useful as a hub for devices if your router is not located in a central location.

A network switch can provide fast, wired internet to a large number of devices which makes streaming for televisions, computers, or gaming systems faster while freeing up the wifi for smaller devices like tablets, laptops, and phones.

We hope you found this article on what is a network switch helpful. For more resources check out our related articles below.

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