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You Have the Ethernet Cables Connected Incorrectly

The Computer Corner

A story, the veracity of which is sometimes questioned, is that the Internet was designed and created to survive a nuclear war. It is true that the worldwide network we know today as the Internet was designed by engineers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, (DARPA). And it is true that the communications protocols are designed to be self-correcting such that the network can often fix itself without human intervention. And that the Internet is non-hierarchical, having no single control center. So a plausible wartime scenario is that even if New York and Washington are vaporized, an Army general in Omaha might still be able to send an email with orders to the troops in Charleston and Buffalo. With bombs falling all around, communications might be slow and intermittent, but the Internet will try to heal itself as best it can to let a few emails through before it crashes again, and has to heal itself again. And this self-correcting process happens hundreds of times per minute.

All of the automatic error correction and self-healing abilities designed into Internet protocols have created a very robust communications network, but these same qualities are at times a serious annoyance to computer techs like me. Why would I make such a statement, you ask? Because no matter how badly miswired, no matter how misconfigured, no matter how poorly maintained, Ethernet-based networks try to heal themselves and sometimes succeed, for a while.

This has resulted in a generation of non-technical Internet users coming to believe that a home computer network is something anyone can just throw together, and that watching a YouTube video will suffice for the years of training required to gain one of the Information Technology certifications. And it has also led to conversations like this one:

Me: “I see that part of the problem here is that you have the Ethernet cables connected incorrectly.”

Client: “No I don’t! I followed the instructions and everything works just fine.”

Me: “Well, if everything works just fine then I guess I am failing to understand your problem.”

Client: “It’s slow and I can’t stay connected.”

Does any of this sound like something you might have read before? Problems like this one happen when users try the do-it-yourself approach to networking. Internet Service Providers, the cable company, or the phone company provide customers with simple home networks in the form of one box that is good for covering one room wirelessly. When users realize they want Wi-Fi throughout the house, they try to add extenders or access points without a good understanding of network topography or proper wiring requirements. That is when the automatic error-correcting systems kick in, often resulting in a network that works slowly or intermittently, but still tries to work as best it can.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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