Ethernets and Fast Ethernets have design rules that must be followed in order to function correctly. Maximum number of nodes, number of repeaters and maximum segment distances are defined by the electrical and mechanical design properties of each type of Ethernet and Fast Ethernet media.
A network using repeaters, for instance, functions with the timing constraints of Ethernet. Although electrical signals on the Ethernet media travel near the speed of light, it still takes a finite time for the signal to travel from one end of a large Ethernet to another. The Ethernet standard assumes it will take roughly 50 microseconds for a signal to reach its destination.
Ethernet is subject to the "5-4-3" rule of repeater placement: the network can only have five segments connected; it can only use four repeaters; and of the five segments, only three can have users attached to them; the other two must be inter-repeater links.
If the design of the network violates these repeater and placement rules, then timing guidelines will not be met and the sending station will resend that packet. This can lead to lost packets and excessive resent packets, which can slow network performance and create trouble for applications. Fast Ethernet has modified repeater rules, since the minimum packet size takes less time to transmit than regular Ethernet. The length of the network links allows for a fewer number of repeaters. In Fast Ethernet networks, there are two classes of repeaters. Class I repeaters have a latency of 0.7 microseconds or less and are limited to one repeater per network. Class II repeaters have a latency of 0.46 microseconds or less and are limited to two repeaters per network. The following are the distance (diameter) characteristics for these types of Fast Ethernet repeater combinations:
Fast Ethernet Copper Fiber
One Class I Repeater
One Class II Repeater
Two Class II Repeaters 100m
* Full Duplex Mode 2 km
When conditions require greater distances or an increase in the number of nodes/repeaters, then a bridge, router or switch can be used to connect multiple networks together. These devices join two or more separate networks, allowing network design criteria to be restored. Switches allow network designers to build large networks that function well. The reduction in costs of bridges and switches reduces the impact of repeater rules on network design.
Each network connected via one of these devices is referred to as a separate collision domain in the overall network.