Switches are as standard in networking as repeaters but are the two interchangeable. Many people don’t know the answer to this and do not fully understand what each is and what the differences between the two are.
Unless a switch has a built-in repeater, it cannot function, nor will it have the capabilities of a repeater. A repeater will amplify and regenerate a signal that has typically been degraded and will extend its range while a switch is used to create a virtual thoroughfare for the connected devices on a network allowing them to transmit data to each other.
This article will detail what a repeater is as well as a switch and discuss how they function and what the differences are between the two. We will then take a look at if, indeed, a switch can be used as a repeater or vice versa.
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What is a repeater?
For the purposes of networking, a repeater is a piece of networking hardware that operates at the networking layer known as the OSI model (Open Systems Interconnection Model). The function of a repeater is to take a received signal (this signal is typically attenuated or degraded), regenerate and amplify it, and then retransmit the signal.
A repeater is necessary because, in networking, a signal starts to degrade after traveling over a long distance. Hence we can say a repeater’s function is that it attempts to preserve the signal integrity and extend the signal’s reach. This allows data to travel further and more safely across the signal.
Take, for instance, your router that has WiFi. There will be sections of your house where the range of your router will not be sufficient because perhaps there are many floors or concrete walls the signal has to travel through, or maybe you have a huge house, and the range does not reach the far end of your home. What you would do is purchase a WiFi extender and place it in an area where the WiFi signal is weak, connect it up to your router, and essentially “boost” the weak signal and extend your WiFi range.
A repeater not only caters to WiFi, but it can also receive and retransmit incoming, electrical, and optical signals depending on the make and model.
What is a switch?
A switch like a repeater is a piece of networking hardware. This piece of hardware will connect devices on a network together, and it uses packet switching (a method of grouping data) to do so. This device will also operate at the networking layer that is the OSI model.
A switch in more detail is a multiport networking bride. A networking bridge can be defined as a device that will create a single network from multiple networks or network segments. Not to be confused with routing, bridging connects two separate networks making them seem like one, while routing allows multiple networks to communicate independently.
How does a switch work?
As we said, a switch connects devices together to form a network. The switch is a thoroughfare to send data from one device to the other and does so by putting the address of the receiving device in its header. It will also map out the ports once it has sent the corresponding data to the correct address. Then in the future, when transmitting data, instead of sending the information out to all the ports (like older Hubs), the switch will have the correct device mapped to the port to which it is connected, essentially only ever sending the valid data to the right device.
What is the difference between a switch and a repeater?
Even though they may seem similar as such, repeaters and switches are different. After reading through our descriptions above, you might have an understanding, but let’s make it abundantly clear.
A repeater will be used to “boost” and extend the range of a network’s signal by amplifying and regenerating the signal to travel a longer distance. A switch does not do this. A switch will make virtual digital channels out of physical connections allowing devices that are connected to it to transmit (send and receive) data to each other and other devices on the network.
What is the difference between a switch and a repeater signal?
A repeater will boost the signal to its former strength, while a switch will be confined to the speed at which it runs or the maximum speed of the devices that are connected to it. A switch will not boost the network signal in any way unless it has a repeater built into it (which we will discuss under the next heading).
Can a switch be used as a repeater?
Switches come in varying speeds, and individuals may think that if they purchase a fast switch, then the distance between the connected devices to the switch will not matter because you get switches that can transfer data at 10Gbps. However, this is not true.
When the total length of a network cable connects a device to a switch or switches are daisy-chained together, the distance may not exceed 328 feet (100 meters). If this maximum length of cable is exceeded, there will be signal loss and degradation. This type of signal loss or degradation will take effect no matter the speed of the switch. Hence, this is why you get repeaters.
You will insert a repeater at the point in the network where the cable length exceeds 328 feet (100 meters), and the repeater will allow you to boost and regenerate the signal.
However, one thing to take note of is that networks can span hundreds of meters if not even blocks, so repeaters are frequently enough placed in the layout of a network. Due to this, many manufacturers have started to build repeaters in their switches that can accomplish two tasks;
- Link network devices for the transmission of data
- Boost and regenerate the signal
Why do you need a repeater if switches have them?
You will have a repeater located in a network typically between switches that are daisy-chained together. A repeater has a distinct advantage in a physical network to boost just one signal and thus will have one connection port allowing for one incoming and one outgoing signal.
There would be no point in a network where you needed to daisy-chain two switches together having another switch between the two because there would be no need for all the additional ports. Thus a one connection point repeater is ideal for these scenarios.
Can a repeater be used as a switch?
In instances where the repeater boosts the signal and allows for the connection of network devices (like in the instance of a WiFi repeater), you could kind of classify it as a switch. This is because, in its most basic definition, a switch is a device that multiple devices can connect to, creating a network allowing those devices to transmit data.
In the case of a WiFi extender, you would still be navigating through the network that your router has set up. However, we can say that in this case, a repeater is acting as a “switch” in some regards.
Moreover, it would help if you understood that a switch relies on physical connections with ethernet cables and physical ports. A repeater in commercial terms refers to wireless range extenders.
After understanding what a switch and repeater are in networking terms, we concluded that a switch could not be used as a repeater because they have different networking functions at a fundamental level.
A repeater, in essence, boosts and extends a signal, whereas a switch connects networking devices together. Please take note that some switches may have built-in repeaters, enabling them to have the capabilities of a repeater.
We also discovered that some repeaters or extenders make act like a switch because (in the case of a WiFi extender) they will allow devices to connect to it, enabling them to utilize the network.