Understanding the required data cabling for your home or business can be tricky. From the outside, it can be difficult identifying Ethernet cables because not only do they look similar, but they’ll all plug into the Ethernet port on your computer or router. However, what’s inside these cables can make a big difference.
To maximize the speed and performance of your network, it is important to understand the technical and physical differences in Ethernet cables and choose the one best suited to your needs.
What is an Ethernet cable?
An Ethernet cable is a common form of network cable used to connect devices within a local area network (LAN) to gain Internet access and carry out file sharing.
Although widely used, Ethernet cables do have their limitations, which is why there are many different types available that are optimised to perform certain tasks in particular applications.
Types of Ethernet cabling
Ethernet cables are categorised based on certain specifications, such as shielding from electromagnetic interference, data transmission speed, and bandwidth frequency range, and which are subject to various testing standards. These categories enable you to choose the right cable for any particular application.
Category 5, or Cat5, introduced the 10/100Mbps speed to the Ethernet, meaning that Cat5 cables support either 10 Mbps or 100Mbps speeds. As the first ‘Fast Ethernet-capable’ cable, Cat5’s can be used for telephone signals and video, as well as data cabling. However, they are now an out-dated cable having been superseded by the newer Cat5e, although you may still see some in use.
Category 5e, also known as Category 5 enhanced cabling, is the newer, improved Cat5 cabling. CAT 5E offers data transfer speeds of 1 Gbps per second at 100 MHz up to 328 feet and is intended to minimise interference and “cross talk” between the two wires inside the cable. Cat5e is likely to deliver faster, reliable speed compared to Cat5 particularly for today’s applications.
Cat6 cabling is manufactured according to stricter specifications meant to reduce interference. This means it can be capable of 10-gigabit speeds under ideal circumstances, but only up to 164ft. So although it is faster than a cat5e, it is not particularly efficient for covering long distances. But, Cat 6 cables do have several improvements, including better insulation and thinner wires, which provide a higher signal-to-noise ratio, and are better suited for environments in which there may be higher electromagnetic interference.
Solid and Stranded cables
As well as being categorised, Ethernet cables are manufactured in two basic forms: solid and stranded. Solid Ethernet cables offer slightly better performance levels and improved protection against electrical interference. Solid cabling is commonly used for business networks and is found inside building walls or within the flooring.
Stranded Ethernet cables are typically more durable, making them less prone to physical breaks. For this reason they are suitable for home networking setups.