What exactly is a “network hub” anyway?

“Hub.” For some reason it’s one of those terms that won’t go away. The term was used in the 1980s and 1990s for networking equipment, and lately DISH has been using it for the nodes that connect their Hopper systems. Yet, no one seems to want to talk about why this isn’t a great term to use.

When it comes to any sort of signal flow, a “hub” means a simple interconnection between devices. Think of a hub as a traffic circle. Everyone is just supposed to wait their turn and get in and out the best they can. This usually works, but everyone slows down and sometimes they crash. But, if there isn’t too much traffic, it’s usually better than a stoplight.

The opposite of this, in network terminology, is a “switch.” A switch creates specific connections between devices which makes crashes practically impossible and keeps all the data moving quickly. It’s like a computer version of the Waze app; it moves people around smartly, knowing what the best route is.

I found this image which explains it really well.

If you think about it, who would want a hub when they could have a switch? No one, that’s who. That’s why network hubs pretty much disappeared when switches got cheap enough. But somehow, the word keeps hanging around.

DISH uses the term “hub” to describe devices like this, which let multiple Joeys see the same Hopper. It is actually a hub in the sense that it doesn’t actively manage the traffic. DIRECTV’s splitters are technically hubs as well when used with a Genie. With either technology, a hub works just fine because there aren’t too many devices and because there is enough bandwidth on the line that signals don’t crash into each other.

You shouldn’t be worried that your satellite system is using hubs instead of switches. You SHOULD be worried if your computer network is, but that’s pretty unlikely.