An access network carries signals to all routers on a network, including edge routers. Edge routers, sometimes also called end systems, are computers or servers that enable network communication. Access network is the term used to describe a network that connects every router or server that needs Internet access. In contrast, the term core network is typically used to describe the main frame of a network, such as the hardware that comprises an Internet service provider‘s main hub.
Access networks, when describing Internet connectivity, are slightly different from radio access networks. Radio access networks consist of radios and antennae, nodes (or cells), and copper or fiber optic cables. The concept is similar, but radio access networks are used for cellular communications and devices.
What does an access network do?
Access networks originated with telephone technology, before cables and hardware were used to transmit Internet signals. Data packets are transmitted between nodes based on the network’s configuration and the switches that pass them.
Access networks consist of servers and routers and the copper or fiber optic cables that connect them. When nationwide network infrastructure was first designed, copper wires were used more commonly, but telecommunications companies have begun utilizing fiber, too. Fiber optic cables have been used for telecommunications since the 1970s, but with the adoption of 5G and high-speed networking technologies, they’ve become even more important. Fiber optic cables transmit signals more quickly, across longer distances than do copper cables. They’re also more physically reliable, less likely to degrade or be destroyed.
Types of access networks include:
- Ethernet, a local area network (LAN) technology for data transmission within one smaller network. Local area networks are often constrained to a specific physical location. Ethernet is one of the most popular networking technologies because it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to implement.
- Gigabit Ethernet, a faster Ethernet technology that transmits data at top speeds in gigabits per second, rather than megabits per second.
- DSL (digital subscriber line), a telephony technology for modems that allows telephone wires to transport Internet and telephone traffic at the same time.