Understanding Transceivers

Photo courtesy of Flickr: Luigi Rosa

There is often a lot of confusion when it comes to transceivers, especially when discussing a server transceiver. Many times they get confused with transponders, a topic that I will tackle in an upcoming blog post. For now, this article will seek to help you in understanding transceivers and the role they play in a server environment.

When we think of transceivers, most of us hearken back to the old days of HAM or amateur radios - those little dust-covered metal boxes that used to take up space in our grandfather's basement. They would have those blocky microphones where you could hold down a button and transmit your voice to some stranger a couple hundred miles away.

Transceivers have grown up a lot since their invention and popularity in the 1920s. As time progressed, we saw their use in other technology such as CB radios, walkie-talkies, and now today in cell phones and even as a server transceiver.

What Transceivers Are Made Of

In simple terms, a transceiver is a unit that consists of a receiver and a transmitter device (hence the origin of the name, which is short for transmitter-receiver). As the name suggests, the transmitter transmits data and the receiver receives information. With a server transceiver, this principle remains the same - think of how you access the Internet or a simple search, for example. You open up a browser, which transmits a signal to request data from a Web server. Once the server receives your request (if the page exists and functions properly), it sends data back (the requested Web page), which is received by the receiver.

That is a rather simplistic view of the process, but I think it sums it up in a nice visual manner.

Another term for a transceiver is a MAU, or Medium Attachment Unit. In the early Ethernet days, the MAU was used to convert data back and forth through an AUI, or Attachment Unit Interface. Over time, the MAU and AUI were phased out as physical units for the most part and are now used primarily as a metaphorical representation to better understand the architecture of the interface. This type of Medium Attachment Unit does still exist in certain forms, such as on 10Base2 and 10BaseT connectors.

In Cat5 (or Category 5) cables, transceivers are known as Gigabit Interface Converters (GBICs) and serve the role of receiving signals from either a switch or adapter card and converting them into optical signals to be sent through the fiber. When in this setting, a transceiver is more commonly referred to as an optical transceiver.

Another form of transceiver is the XFP, or 10 Gigabit Form Factor Pluggable, which is used in 10-gigabit Ethernet cables and has the ability to handle higher speeds of data transmission.

Other types of optical transceivers include SFP and SFP+.

Summary

There is a lot to consider when it comes to understanding transceivers, and this blog post really only scratched the surface. Here is some more information on transceivers and networking in general:

For more on networking architecture, take a look at Microsoft's Explanation of the OSI (Open Systems Interconnect) Model.

For a general definition, read more about transceivers here.

To learn more about types of transceiver chips, check out this article.

Here is an interesting article on the history of mobile technology, including the transceiver's role.

The IEEE offers more details on Ethernet Standards.

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