Despite the growth of the Internet, the characteristics of local area networks (computer networks that run at most a few kilometres) remain distinct. This is because networks on this scale do not require all the features associated with larger networks and are often more cost-effective and efficient without them.
In the mid-1980s, several protocol suites emerged to fill the gap between the data link and applications layer of the OSI reference model. These were Appletalk, IPX and NetBIOS with the dominant protocol suite during the early 1990s being IPX due to its popularity with MS-DOS users. TCP/IP existed at this point but was typically only used by large government and research facilities. As the Internet grew in popularity and a larger percentage of traffic became Internet-related, local area networks gradually moved towards TCP/IP and today networks mostly dedicated to TCP/IP traffic are common. The move to TCP/IP was helped by technologies such as DHCP that allowed TCP/IP clients to discover their own network address — a functionality that came standard with the AppleTalk/IPX/NetBIOS protocol suites.
It is at the data link layer though that most modern local area networks diverge from the Internet. Whereas Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) or Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) are typical data link protocols for larger networks, Ethernet and Token Ring are typical data link protocols for local area networks. These protocols differ from the former protocols in that they are simpler (e.g. they omit features such as Quality of Service guarantees) and offer collision prevention. Both of these differences allow for more economic set-ups.
Despite the modest popularity of Token Ring in the 80’s and 90’s, virtually all local area networks now use wired or wireless Ethernet. At the physical layer, most wired Ethernet implementations use copper twisted-pair cables (including the common 10BASE-T networks). However, some early implementations used coaxial cables and some recent implementations (especially high-speed ones) use optic fibres. Where optic fibre is used, the distinction must be made between multi-mode fibre and single-mode fibre. Multi-mode fibre can be thought of as thicker optical fibre that is cheaper to manufacture devices for but that suffers from less usable bandwidth and greater attenuation (i.e. poor long-distance performance).
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