Ethernet Switch vs. Hub vs. Splitter: What’s the Difference?

Ethernet Router Splitter Hub

You’re short on Ethernet ports and want to transform one Ethernet cable into two. The first thing that springs to mind is probably Ethernet splitting. As the name suggests, this is the process of splitting one Ethernet connection into two.

If you do decide to split your Ethernet connection, you have a few options: hub, splitter, or switch. Each solution has something different to offer, so before purchasing any gadget, it’s important to identify which one has the most to offer you.

Here we explain the various Ethernet splitting options so you will know which solution is most suited to you.

Ethernet Splitter

Let’s start with the thing you were probably most tempted to just run out and buy when looking to transform one Ethernet connection into several. (Hint: don’t do it!)

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An Ethernet splitter looks pretty unassuming. It’s a small gizmo with three Ethernet ports – two on one side and one on the other. If you have a surplus of short Ethernet cables – but only one or two long cables – then this is where a splitter comes in handy.

Note: an Ethernet splitter doesn’t actually increase the number of devices you can connect via Ethernet, and you will need a splitter at the other end to “unsplit” the connection back into two cables, so two Ethernet splitters will be required each time.

An Ethernet splitter reduces the number of utilized wires in a Cat 5e Ethernet cable and reduces the data throughput from 1000Mbps to 100Mbps. This enables you to utilize one cable for two Ethernet connections. While Ethernet splitters are cheap and appear to offer a good solution, they do result in a slower speed for network traffic. This is likely to affect the performance of your Ethernet-connected devices. Ethernet splitters are also limited to a maximum of two devices per cable.

For some limited situations, Ethernet splitters are a good option. However, it’s almost always better to opt for an Ethernet switch.

Ethernet Switch

Returning to our original topic of transforming one Ethernet cable into two, the Ethernet switch is the real star of this guide. The way it works is incredibly simple. You can use one port to connect the switch to your router via Ethernet, then connect your Ethernet devices to the remaining ports.

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Essentially, one Ethernet port becomes multiple ports. Switches give the inbound data from your network devices their own pathways. This means the data between devices doesn’t interfere with each other.

Switches allow for full-duplex communication between devices, which means that data can be sent and received at the same time, resulting in a faster network.

The great thing is that Ethernet switches aren’t expensive either. You should be able to pick up an Ethernet switch for around $15.

Ethernet Hub

Last and probably least is the Ethernet hub, which has been pretty much outmoded by the switch. If a switch creates pathways for packets to communicate with your router, then think of a hub as a vast chamber filled with network traffic, where packets go in and shout to find the devices they’re trying to connect to. In more technical terms, hubs cannot allow devices to send and receive data at the same time, which is called half-duplex communication.

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This results in data holdups and collisions, hogging precious bandwidth and causing network slowdown, particularly when you’re using multiple devices simultaneously.

Note that Ethernet hubs pretty much look exactly like switches, so don’t make the mistake of buying a hub when you really want a switch.

Why not try an alternative?

If you want to connect multiple devices, then a network cable is only one option. There are multiple methods to share the same signal between multiple devices, including some Wi-Fi options.

Here’s three alternatives to the traditional network splitter:

1. Mesh Wi-Fi

Rather than broadcasting Wi-Fi signals from a single point, mesh Wi-Fi routers have multiple access points, sometimes called satellites. These satellites capture the router’s signal and rebroadcast it.

Since the access points all broadcast the same signal, you don’t have to switch Wi-Fi connections as you move from one access point to another. If you regularly encounter Wi-Fi dead zones in your home or office, then you may be an ideal candidate for mesh Wi-Fi. Popular mesh-router solutions include Google’s Nest Wifi, Netgear Orbi, and eero.

2. Ethernet Over Power Line (EOP)

An EOP is where you transfer data for an internal network (LAN) using a building’s existing electrical cables.

An EOP consists of a transmitter and receiver. Plug the transmitter into a power outlet, then use an Ethernet cable to connect the transmitter to your router. Attach the receiver to a power outlet, and use an Ethernet cable to connect the receiver to your device.

The EOP transmitter converts the signal in the high frequency range onto the electrical wiring, and the receiver demodulates this signal. This creates a physical connection between your Ethernet-enabled device and your router, without the need for additional wires. Assuming you purchase compatible EOP adapters, you can set up multiple receivers around your home or office.

3. MoCA

If you have coaxial cables installed, then you could use a MoCA adapter to send Ethernet signals over your existing cabling. If your home has been wired for cable TV, then you’ll typically already have coaxial cabling. This means you could potentially connect a MoCA adapter to your router and another close to a coaxial port in each room where you want to access the Internet.

If you need to connect additional devices via coaxial cabling, then you may also want to use a coaxial splitter.

Now that you know the differences between an Ethernet switch, hub and splitter, you will know which one is for you. In most cases, we will recommend the Ethernet switch, as it is really the most versatile solution. If you are a gamer, do also check out whether Ethernet or Wi-Fi is more suitable for gaming.

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Jessica Thornsby Jessica Thornsby

Jessica Thornsby is a technical writer based in Derbyshire, UK. When she isn’t obsessing over all things tech, she enjoys researching her family tree, and spending far too much time with her house rabbits.

2 comments

  1. Where would we be without you great technical wizards. Very informative article and has directed me in the correct direction – an Ethernet Switch. Thank you.

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