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I was reading about the various twisted pair protocols, being distracted by the marvels of Wikipedia when I went to look up the way to wire a connector.

And I'm wondering how it can transmit in both directions at the same time over the same conductor? I assume I read that correctly, since if they take turns it would not be called full duplex.

And why is that better than using two (different) pairs in each direction?

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The method is called echo cancellation, and it requires a bit of signal processing. Basically, the idea is since you know what you're sending out, then you can separate the signal you just sent from what is coming in from the far end of the link. The way the circuitry is set up, the transmit and receive signals are superimposed on top of each other, more or less adding together.

Simple example to give you an idea of how this works: if the transmitter sends

+1, +1, -1, +1

and the local receiver gets

+2, 0, -2, +2

then you can work out that the signal from the other end must have been

+1, -1, -1, +1

That's more or less the gist of how it works, but it's significantly more complicated due to delays and reflections. The technique is called 'echo cancellation' because sending just a lone +1 down the line will not result in receiving a lone +1, rather you will get several delayed copies at various amplitudes. For example, if you send

+1, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0

you might get back

0, +0.8, 0, +0.2, -0.1, +0.1

due to discontinuities along the line. The received signal then becomes the 'convolution' of the transmitted signal with this pattern. For example, if you send

+1, +1, -1, +1, 0, 0, 0, 0

then you will get something like

0, +0.8, +0.8, -0.6, +0.9, -0.2, +0.4, -0.2, +0.1

The transceivers send training sequences to figure out what the echo looks like (e.g. send a lone +1 while the other end is sending 0 and measure what you get at the receiver). This information is used to reconstruct what the receiver would expect to see from the transmitted data echoing back. This reconstruction is subtracted from the received data, leaving behind the signal from the other end of the link.

This method cannot tolerate as much loss or noise as using separate signalling pairs for each direction, however it means that you can re-use the old 100 Mbit cabling that you already have routed to every room in your building.

Incidentally, 10 Mbit and 100 Mbit signalling is horribly inefficient: both use a single receive pair and a single transmit pair, even though the cable has four pairs. When gigabit ethernet was developed, the designers wanted to keep compatibility with 10 and 100 Mbit ethernet as much as possible. Since there was no way they were going to get 10x the bandwidth out of one single pair, the solution was to improve the single pair bandwidth by 2.5x and then use all four pairs. They now have 10G ethernet over a slightly improved version of the same cabling (mainly it requires a lot of shielding), but it is currently very uncommon (most 10G ethernet uses completely different cabling that has one pair in each direction running at 10G). I seriously doubt we will see anything faster than 10G ethernet over RJ-45 cabling.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If only half the wires were used, why did people pay for double the copper? \$\endgroup\$ – JDługosz Oct 9 '14 at 13:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a really good question. I think it is a holdover from phone systems - the RJ-45 jacks used for Ethernet can carry four phone lines. The strange pair arrangement is also derived from telephone wiring, since it allows a two or four line capable connector to be easily wired with one or two lines. Also interesting to note: many buildings have several runs of RJ-45 terminated cables to each room that terminate in a patch panel in a telecom room, and they can be connected to either a phone line or an Ethernet switch as necessary. Also, RJ-11 plugs fit into RJ-45 jacks. \$\endgroup\$ – alex.forencich Oct 9 '14 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ One thing to remember about telecom and datacom stuff: there are all kinds of 'legacy' constraints that drive new designs so they are cheaper to adopt and maintain. \$\endgroup\$ – alex.forencich Oct 9 '14 at 19:24
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How do they do it?

From the 802.3 standard (IEEE Std 802.3-2012, sec 3, p. 180):

The aggregate data rate of 1000 Mb/s is achieved by transmission at a data rate of 250 Mb/s over each wire pair, as shown in Figure 40–2. The use of hybrids and cancellers enables full duplex transmission by allowing symbols to be transmitted and received on the same wire pairs at the same time. Baseband signaling with a modulation rate of 125 MBd is used on each of the wire pairs. The transmitted symbols are selected from a four-dimensional 5-level symbol constellation.

A hybrid is a type of directional coupler. That is, a component that separates signals travelling in forward and reverse directions on the line.

Why is it better?

Because each cable only has to carry ~250 Mb/s in each direction instead of 500 Mb/s, which allows for longer link distances.

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Gige Speed Ethernet uses advanced equalization techniques to compensate for connector reflections, impedance changes in the propagation path and various other imperfections.

As to how you can transmit and receive at the same time?

It requires two things, one is that the transmitter impedance cannot be so low that is shorts out the incoming signal, but the driver needs to be impedance matched to prevent reflections anyways. The second thing that is needed is that you know what you are transmitting, so any deviation from that waveform must be the incoming waveform. As long as reflections are not too high you should be able (and indeed they are successful) in extracting out the relevant information.

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