The Physical Layer is the lowest layer in the seven layer OSI model of computer networking.
The Physical Layer consists of the basic hardware transmission technologies of a network sometime referred to as the physical media. Physical media provides the electro-mechanical interface through which data moves among devices on the network.
Initially physical media is though of as some sort of wire. As technology progresses the types of media grows.
Bounded media transmits signals by sending electricity or light over a cable. Unbounded media transmits data without the benefit of a conduit-it might transmit data through open air, water, or even a vacuum. Simply put, media is the wire, or anything that takes the place of the wire, such as fiber optic, infrared, or radio spectrum technology.
Defintions from the wired world of data transmission:
Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), also referred to as Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS), connections run over the standard copper phone lines found in most homes
Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) uses a single wire or fiber optic line to carry voice, data, and video signals.
Basic Rate Interface (BRI) is most commonly used in residential ISDN connections. It's composed of two bearer (B) channels at 64 Kbps each for a total of 128 Kbps (used for voice and data) and one delta (D) channel at 16 Kbps (used for controlling the B channels and signal transmission). The total bandwidth is up to 144 Kbps.
Primary Rate Interface (PRI) is most commonly used between a PBX (Private Branch Exchange) at the customer's site and the central office of the phone company. It is composed of 23 B channels at 64 Kbps and one D channel at 64 Kbps. The total bandwidth is up to 1,536 Kbps.
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technologies use existing, regular copper phone lines to transmit data. DSL hardware can transmit data using three channels over the same wire. In a typical set up, a user connected through a DSL hookup can send data at 640 Kbps, receive data at 1.5 Mbps, and still carry on a standard phone conversion over one line.
T-Carrier Technology is a digital transmission service used to create point-to-point private networks and to establish direct connections to Internet Service Providers. It uses four wires, one pair to transmit and another to receive.
T-1 lines support data transfer at rates of 1.544 megabits per second. Each T-1 line contains 24 channels. The E1 line is the European counterpart that transmits data at 2.048 Mbps.
T-3 has 672 (64 Kbps) channels, for a total data rate of 44.736 Mbps. The E3 line is the European counterpart that transmits data at 34.368 Mbps.
Cable connections provide access to the Internet through the same coaxial cable that brings cable TV into your home. A signal splitter installed by the cable company isolates the Internet signals from the TV signals. The two-way cable connection is always available and can be very fast. Speeds up to 30 Mbps are claimed to be possible, although speeds in the 1 to 2 Mbps range are more typical.
Unbounded media examples of data transmission:
Narrow band radio, laser, and microwave , transmission can not occur through steel or load bearing walls.
Satellite has a transmission delay of 240 to 300 milliseconds
Terrestrial microwave is commonly used for long distance voice and video transmissions, and for short distance high speed links between buildings.
Laser is resistant to eavesdropping and capable of high transmission rates; susceptible to attenuation and interference.
Spread spectrum radio frequencies are divided into channel or hops.