Multisegment Ethernet networks can be constructed by using repeaters and hubs. A segment is defined as a length of cable consisting of one or more cable sections and associated connectors with each end terminating in its characteristic impedance. For example with 10BASE5, the segment represents the complete endtoend length of thick coaxial cable even though several medium attachment units (MAUs) are clamped onto the cable. The maximum length of a 10BASE5 segment is 500 m and this would represent the network diameter of the Ethernet network if no repeaters were used. However, Ethernet can be expanded to a larger network diameter by using repeaters as long as the network diameter does not exceed the collision domain of Ethernet.
We will limit discussions to 10 Mbps, shared Ethernet. With shared Ethernet, all nodes participate in media arbitration and must reside within one collision domain. Another characteristic of shared Ethernet is that communication is halfduplex. Although all nodes can send and receive, there cannot be any simultaneous sending or receiving. This would result in collisions and it is this detection of collisions that is used to arbitrate media access. Repeaters must not interfere with this arbitration method by favoring one node over another.
The requirements for repeaters are stated in IEEE 802.3. The standard uses the term "repeater set" which consists of a repeater with two or more attached MAUs. These MAUs may also have an AUI cable connecting the repeater to its attached MAU, but with modern repeaters this is not usually the case. We will use the terms repeater and repeater set interchangeably. A repeater is usually viewed as a twoport device, whereas a repeating hub has more than two ports. Their operation is the same. A valid signal on one port is retransmitted to all other ports. Regardless whether we are using DIX V2.0 or IEEE 802.3 frame format, the expansion issues are the same. Adding a repeater should be transparent to the network by not causing any disruption of Ethernet's basic operation or impacting media arbitration. Repeaters are commonly viewed as devices that restore the amplitude of the signal to correct the effects of cable attenuation. However, Ethernet repeaters are required to do more. Repeaters must do the following:
As a signal propagates down a cable, it suffers loss of signal strength and symbol symmetry. Jitter is also introduced due to effects identified as intersymbol interference. These effects must not accumulate through the use of repeaters. Repeaters must restore the integrity of the signals; this includes retiming.
The preamble of an Ethernet frame consists of 64 bits, but due to transceiver startup delays it is possible that not all bits are present. The repeater must count the bits in the incoming preamble and insert bits if any are missing. This means that the repeater must have a firstinfirst out (FIFO) buffer in order to accomplish this. All regenerated frames will have the proper 64bit preamble. Preamble regeneration should not be confused with packet store and forwarding. According to the standard, repeaters are not allowed to store and forward. Bridges and routers provide this functionality, not repeaters.
Ethernet relies upon collision sensing as it arbitrates access to the cable. Repeaters must reinforce the detection of a collision by asserting the same collision signal on all ports. It does this by sending out a 32bit jam signal. If the collision was sensed during the 64bit preamble, the preamble is still repeated but a 32bit jam signal is appended so that all ports see a minimum of 96 bits for proper collision detection by devices connected to the ports. This is called fragment extension.
Repeaters can be connected in series (cascaded) to increase the network diameter, but there are restrictions. As mentioned before, repeaters must reinforce collision detection. But if the network diameter exceeds a single collision domain, unreliable operation will result. The maximum collision diameter is determined by the roundtrip time of a signal propagating between the two furthest nodes. This time cannot exceed 575 bits (57.5 ms at 10 Mbps. Repeaters impact the maximum collision diameter since they contribute data latency due to their electronics. The IEEE 802.3 standard does an exhaustive study on all contributors of data latency including cables, transceivers and the like. These values formulate the rules that govern the number of repeaters that can be cascaded.
There are two approaches that can be used to calculate the number of repeaters. Approach 1 is more of the "cookbook" approach whereas approach 2 is the more analytical. It would be nice to have simple cabling rules for expanding an Ethernet network, but unfortunately that is not the case. Here are the rules for approach 1:
The transmission path permitted between any two DTEs may consist of up to five segments, four repeater sets (including optional AUIs), two MAUs, and two AUIs.
A DTE is data terminal equipment which is either the source or destination of the traffic. A repeater set is actually a repeater with two attached medium attachment units (MAUs). An AUI is an attachment unit interface which is required if external MAUs are being used. With this rule the two MAUs and the two AUIs are reserved for the DTEs. The repeater sets, by definition, have their own MAUs.
When a transmission path consists of four repeaters and five segments, up to three of the segments may be mixing and the remainder must be link segments. When five segments are present, each fiber optic link segment shall not exceed 500 m.
Figure 1 — Good example of 543 rule. Notice the distance limitation on the fiber segments.
A mixing segment is actually a bus segment such as 10BASE2 or 10BASE5. A link segment consists of only two MAUs and is capable of fullduplex operation (10BASEFL and 10BASET qualify). Notice that although 10BASEFL is capable of achieving a 2 km segment length, it is limited to 500 m under the above conditions. Figure 1 shows this situation. Notice that the maximum segment length for 10BASE2, 10BASE5 and 10BASET can be achieved. Only the 10BASEFL segment length is restricted. This rule says that you cannot have an all coaxial system when using four repeaters; however, an all fiber or all twistedpair network is possible using four repeaters.
When a transmission path consists of three repeater sets and four segments, the following restrictions apply:
An all coaxial network can be created when using three repeaters — and it appears that an all fiber system can extend to 2800 meters.
The above rules have lead to a simplified procedure for creating multisegment Ethernet networks called the 543 rule. In the 543 rule, a total of five segments can exist connected by four repeaters as long as no more than three are bus segments. This is a very simple rule and it does not address the three, two or one repeater configuration. The rule also does not address the maximum allowable segment length under the varying conditions. In general, fiber segments are limited when using multiple repeaters. For these special situations, approach 2 should be used to determine if the proposed expansion method will not exceed the limit of the collision domain.
Figure 2 — Approach 2 uses the path model.
For a detailed analysis on the restrictions for cascading hubs, approach 2 can be used. With this approach two parameters are calculated. First the worst case round trip delay is calculated. Second the interframe gap (IFG) shrinkage is calculated. The IEEE 802.3 standard provides tables for these calculations. This approach is used for situations not covered in the more generalized approach number 1.
The model used consists of two DTEs interconnected by repeaters as shown in Figure 2. There is a left end DTE and a right end DTE. The middle segments are for the repeaters. The roundtrip bit times for all devices can be found in the table. This calculation is done first. The total round trip delay of all devices or components cannot exceed 575 bit times. This number is based upon the 64bit preamble followed by 511 bits of frame. You should include some margin (up to 5 bits) and the standard recommends not exceeding 572. Some technical references will say the limit is actually 512 bit times since this is the slot time. This ignores the 64bit preamble. IEEE 802.3 considers the preamble as well. Table 1 provides a listing of segment delay values (SDV) for the various media.
As an example let us assume an all twistedpair network consisting of six segments and five repeaters. Since both ends are 10BASET segments, there is no significance to left end and right end. If the end segments are indeed different, you would need to do the calculation twice since the left and right end delays are different. Use the worst case calculation.
For our example, we want to use the maximum allowable segment length of 100 meters. Therefore, from the chart select 26.55 and 176.3 for the ends and 53.3 for the four midsegments. Adding them all up yields 416.05 which is less than the 572 limit. There seems to be much margin. If you do not use the maximum length of the segments in the calculation, you will need to calculate the actual delay value for a particular length of cable using the following equation: SDV = Base + [Length * (RT delay/meter)]. Do not forget to add the base value which represents the inherent delay within the transceiver. These base values include the effect of 2 m of AUI cables and are therefore conservative since AUI cables are seldom used today. However, if more than 2 m of AUI is to be used, this additional length must be included in the calculation.
Segment Type 
Max Length 
Left End 
Midsement 
Right End 
RT delay / meter 

Base 
Max 
Base 
Max 
Base 
Max 

10BASE5 Coax 
500

11.75

55.05

46.5

89.8

169.5

212.8

0.0866

10BASE2 Coax 
185

11.75

30.731

46.5

65.48

169.5

188.48

0.1026

FOIRL 
1000

7.75

107.75

29

129

152

252

0.1

10BASET 
100

15.25

26.55

42

53.3

165

176.3

0.113

10BASEFP 
1000

11.25

111.25

61

161

183.5

284

0.1

10BASEFB 
2000

N/A

N/A

24

233.5

N/A

N/A

0.1

10BASEFL 
2000

12.25

212.25

33.5

233.5

156.5

356.5

0.1

Excess Length AUI 
48

0

4.88

0

4.88

0

4.88

0.1026

Table 1 — Segment roundtrip delay values in bit times. The total roundtrip cannot exceed 572 bit times.
The next calculation is to determine the IFG shrinkage. As frames are processed through repeaters, there may be loss of bits that must be compensated for by the repeaters. The result is that the time between frames might be reduced below the minimum stated in the standard. Therefore, a path variability value (PVV) calculation must be made on the worstcase path. Table 2 provides the values. Note that you do not need to consider the receiving end. Therefore, there are only five effected segments—the transmitting segment and the four midsegments. For the transmitting segment use 10.5 and for the midsegments use 8. The total would be 42.5 which is less than the 49 maximum that is allowed by the standard. This example shows there is a situation where five repeaters can be used in a row which contradicts approach 1. However, if you want to remain conservative, limit your network to four repeaters.Notice that if we added one more repeater in our example (one more midsegment) that the additional 8 bit times in the PVV calculation would exceed 49. Therefore, we could still pass the delay calculation but fail the IFG test.
Segment Type 
Transmitting End 
Midsegment 
Coax 
16 
11 
Link except 10BASEFB 
10.5 
8 
10BASEFB 
N/A 
2 
10BASEFP 
11 
8 
Table 2 — Segment variability values in bit times. The total cannot exceed 49.
Shared Ethernet networks can be extended with repeaters as long as the network diameter does not exceed the limit of a single collision domain. The IEEE 802.3 standard mentions two approaches in determining the limit. Approach 1 provides a set of rules which has resulted in the short form 543 rule. Approach 2 is more analytical and should be used when the network topology is inconsistent with the rules. What should be remembered is that in a shared Ethernet network, repeaters should not be applied without thought.
Practical Networking With Ethernet, Charles E. Spurgeon, 2000, International Thomson Computer Press
Switched and Fast Ethernet, Second Edition, Robert Breyer and Sean Riley, 1996, Macmillan Computer Publishing USA
International Standard ISO/IEC 88023 ANSI/IEEE Std 802.3, 2000, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Inc.