How to choose the Best Ethernet Cables and Cable Type for Your Project

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Ethernet Cables

Not all ethernet cables are created equal. If you are choosing your office’s or a client’s PoE cabling, you’ll have to do so with great intention for the best outcome. Selecting appropriate PoE cabling is important not only for fiscal responsibility, but for performance and even safety. It is not a task to take lightly.

Don’t be concerned about making an uninformed decision. We have all the necessary guidance laid out for you so you can select the most appropriate cabling for the job.

How to Choose The Best PoE Cabling

When you are looking for the best ethernet cables, you get what you pay for. In a recent article, Networkworld reported on poor quality Cat5e and Cat6 cabling purchased through Amazon. This just goes to show that even reliable providers like Amazon can occasionally slip.

Apparently this particular cable had a cheap vinyl jacket and poorly stranded aluminum conductors. Oops!

If you’re new to Ethernet installs, you might be wondering: how can you tell what the best PoE cabling is? Well, one easy identifier is price.

Poke around on Amazon a while and you’ll find the culprit. Its low price point prompted some customers into taking a chance, but it should have thrown off alarm bells. When you’re doing work in your own home that’s one thing, but installing in a customer’s place of business is entirely another affair. It’s just not worth the risk posed by cutting corners.

If you follow the comments chain, you’ll find more than one customer complains about cable failure. Others mention detaching connectors. When you’re paying independent contractors to job-in by the hour to run cable, the last thing you want is to run into problems with cable failures.

Let’s cover how you can avoid this downfall in your own installations. After all, it’s one thing to encourage the purchase of high quality cable; it’s another to define it.

To start off, we’re going to list 5 ways you can ensure you’re investing in the best ethernet cables.

1. Look for UL Markings on the Casing

One of the things you should look for, as a sign of quality, are the standard UL markings.

UL Rated Ethernet Cables

Underwriters Laboratory (UL) is a global, independent, safety science company. A non-profit, they focus on testing, inspection, certification, auditing and validation. Their goal is public safety. They work within numerous industries, developing standards aimed at ensuring manufacturers adhere to best practices.

So how can you tell if their standards have been followed to a T? Look for the following badges.

The UL mark tells the customer that the product has undergone and passed the proper tests. Testing is carried out in Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.

Some pirates may seek to counterfeit the mark, so take a good look at them and commit them to memory. You can also go to the UL website to view valid variations of the badges.

2. Check to See If It’s Plenum-Rated

Plenum Rated Ethernet Cables

Another feature to check for, is a cable’s plenum-rating.

It should come as no surprise that oxygen can increase fire dangers. Plenum-Rated Ethernet Cables indicate a special low-flame, low-smoke insulation process required for any cable installed in air handling spaces.

It’s essentially a fire-retardant coating that substantially reduces hazards by preventing air from contacting and igniting the heat-soaked internals of a given cable.

Furthermore, the plenum-rated cables will emit a far less toxic smoke when burned. So in the case of an emergency, if your installation is in a location with a high density of human workers, plenum will be a necessity.

3. Check If It’s Pure Copper or Copper-Clad Aluminum

Copper Wire Ethernet Cable Types

As with many cost-saving measures, it’s important to always weigh the costs and benefits carefully before making a decision.

One way manufacturers often cut costs on producing cabling is by using copper-clad (or dipped) aluminum wires instead of pure copper wires. As you might expect, this comes with a loss in quality.

What you might not expect, is the magnitude of that loss. One source is on record showing signals transmitted across copper-clad aluminum being only 60-68% as efficient as the same signals sent over copper wires.

What’s worse, is that the cheaper wires can overheat under a dense load. Something as simple as several LED lights attached to a primary cable can cause this problem to arise.

Last but not least, aluminum wires are more susceptible to breakdown over time, meaning they’ll need to be replaced far sooner than their pure copper counterparts will.

4. Look for TIA and IEC Standards

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) have published a set of standards that address commercial buildings for telecom products and services.

These standards are collaborative, committee driven standards and ensure that the latest findings are adhered to in all new product development. Contributors are engineers and one area they focus heavily on is structured cabling.

As you may have guessed, structured cabling standards are guidelines by which a structure is expected to be cabled. There are actually 6 components to structured cabling.

  • Entrance Facilities (EF) contact point with ISP provider
  • Equipment Room (ER) centralized telcomm for campus
  • Backbone Cabling interconnecting and subsystem cables
  • Telecomms Room (TR) and Telecomms Enclosure (TE)
  • Horizontal Cabling (Cabling Subsystem 1)
  • Work Area (WA)

Since 100-ohm twisted-pair cabling (Cat5e and Cat6) are the largest part of these structure guidelines, it is therefore critical that the cabling itself be durable and high-quality.

Incidentally, the lifespan of a typical cabling system is roughly 16 years. Makes sense then that high quality cabling can save your customers a lot of money in the long run!

The other important standard to consider is put forth by the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission). The IEC is part of a combined effort between ISO/IEC/IEEE 8802-3:2014 to protect consumers.

These standards target network operation for selected speeds of 1 Mbps to 100 Gbps. Look for manufacturer literature supporting these standards as part of product development.

5. Be Careful Where You Buy

Once you know what to look for, you can buy your cables just about anywhere without hesitation, with one caveat. Always consider the manufacturer name.

UL does serve Asia, Europe, North America and South America, but you’ll still want to be cautious before buying. If something appears dicey or too good to be true, it probably is.

It’s better to pay more up front for quality cable than it is to repair unnecessary fire damage down the road.

Your customers’ financial investments, and the time and effort it costs you to install Ethernet Cable networks, make it critical that things are done right the first time. Things that can always go wrong no matter how well prepared you are, but penny-wise thinking when it comes to cable installations is a path fraught with peril.

Ethernet Cables: Difference between Cat5 vs Cat6 vs Cat7 Cable Types

Ethernet cables represent the plumbing pipes of the Internet. Many network installers and system integrators are familiar with Cat5e and Cat6 cables with RJ45 connectors. But the term “Ethernet”, co-invented by Robert Metcalfe, encompasses an entire range of twisted pair and fiber cables that are constantly being upgraded and standardized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers known as IEEE. Each new iteration of Ethernet, or category, supports increasingly faster bandwidth speeds and improves upon noise cancelation.

Build a Co-Axial Based Network

Cross sections of different category types of Ethernet reveal differing internal physical compositions. This guide will help you learn more about the subtle differences between each generation of twisted pair Ethernet cable.

Different Ethernet Categories

Ethernet cabling differences can be invisible to the casual observer. However, each new generation introduces copper pairs with tighter twists and more complex sheathing. Many earlier Ethernet generation cables have become obsolete.

Categories for Ethernet Cables

Category 3

Cat3 cable is an earlier generation of Ethernet but can still be seen in older deployments. With the ability to support a maximum frequency of 16 MHz, this type of Ethernet can still be used for two-line telephone systems and 10BASE-T networks. CAT3 cable can also be used for alarm system installation or similar applications. CAT3 cable can have 2, 3, or 4 copper pairs (though uncommon). Category 5e cable, however, has become the default Ethernet category of choice with the ability to support faster speeds and frequencies.

Category 5

Cat5 Ethernet, introduced 10/100 Mbps Ethernet over distances of up to 100 meters, also known as Fast Ethernet. Even though some older deployments still use CAT5 cable, it is now considered obsolete and has since been replaced by Cat5e.
NOTE: 100 Mbps /100m.

Category 5e

Though Cat5 and Cat5e cables are physically similar, Category 5e Ethernet adheres to more stringent IEEE standards. “E” is for enhanced, meaning a lower-noise version where the potential for crosstalk is reduced. Crosstalk is interference that transfers from adjacent wires.

Cat5e is the most common type of ethernet cables used for deployments due to its ability to support Gigabit speeds at a cost-effective price. Even though both Cat5 and Cat5e support a maximum frequency of up to 100MHz, Cat5e has completely replaced its predecessor. Gigabit Ethernet utilizes 4 data pairs in comparison to Fast Ethernet which utilizes 2 data pairs.

Further, Cat 5e supports speeds of up to 1000 Mbps. It’s flexible enough for small space installations like residences, though it is still used in commercial spaces. Of all the current cabling options, Cat5e is your least expensive option.

NOTE: 100-250Mhz/1 Gbps/100m.

Category 6

Cat6 wiring can support up to 10 Gbps and frequencies of up to 250 MHz. While Cat5e cable features 1.5-2 twists per cm, Cat6 cables are more tightly wound and feature 2 or more twists per cm. (The amount of twists per cm varies upon each cable manufacturer).

Cat6 cables also sport thicker sheaths in comparison to Cat5e. Though standard Ethernet supports distances of up to 100 meters, CAT6 cable only supports 37-55 meters (depending on crosstalk) when transmitting 10 Gbps speeds. Its thicker sheath protects against Near End Crosstalk (NEXT) and Alien Crosstalk (AXT).

Even though Cat6 and Cat6a cabling offer higher performance rates, many LANs still opt for CAT5e due to its cost-effectiveness and ability to support Gigabit speeds.

Ethernet Cable Types

NOTE: 250-500Mhz/10 Gbps /100m.

Category 6a

Cat6a supports bandwidth frequencies of up to 500 MHz, twice the amount of Cat6 cable, and can also support 10Gbps like its predecessor. However, unlike Cat6 cabling, Cat6a can support 10 Gigabit Ethernet at 100 meters. [Cat6 cabling on the other hand, can transmit the same speeds at up to 37 meters.]

Cat6a also features more robust sheathing which eliminates alien crosstalk (AXT) and improves upon the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). “A” = augmented. The stronger sheathing makes

Cat6a cabling considerably thicker than Cat6, also making it less flexible to work with, and therefore, better suited for industrial environments at a lower price point.

NOTE: 250-500Mhz/10 Gbps /100m.

Category 7

Cat7 can also support 10 Gbps, but laboratory testing has successfully shown its ability to transmit up to 40 Gb at 50 meters and even 100 Gb at 15 meters. The newer “Class F” cabling can support frequencies of up to 600 Mhz. That said, Cat7 has not been approved as a cable standard for telecommunications.

Cat7 offers extensive shielding to reduce signal attenuation and is relatively stiff in comparison to previous generations of cabling. Both individual pairs are shielded, with an additional layer of shielding over the entire cable. The shielding needs to be grounded and Cat7 also requires special GigaGate45 (GG45) connectors to take full advantage of higher performance features.

All in all, Cat6a can perform just about the same as Cat7 but at a lower price point. Most of our AV and IP surveillance customers opt for Cat6a STP or Cat6a FTP. Both offer shielding from alien crosstalk and interference around high voltage lines.

Cat7 is suited for use in datacenters and large enterprise networks.

Note: 600Mhz/10Gbps/100m (40Gbps at 50m/100Gbps at 15m).

Category 8

Cat8 cable is still in the development stage and not yet ratified. According to the 2016 Ethernet Alliance Roadmap, it will be able to support 25GB and 40Gb Ethernet. Cat8 will be able to support even faster transmission rates at distances of up to 30 meters.

How to know what type of cabling to buy once deciding on a CAT type

Answer the following questions to narrow down to your requirements:

  • Are you looking for burial cables with UV protection?
  • Will the cables be within 6 inches of power lines?
  • Will the cables be in walls?
  • Is flame resistance cabling required for the installation?

Here’s a link to an outdoor CAT6 gel filled cable. There are plenty of good manufacturers out there. PLANET is not advocating one supplier. This is just to illustrate.

Each cable category has various types of insulation or shielding that installers need to take into consideration before purchasing. There’s no one answer to all questions but the answers to these questions should help the reader decide based on their project.

The price difference between the various types can range anywhere from $100 to $600+ depending on type.

Here’s a helpful overview: Siemon’s category 6A F/UTP shielded outside plant (OSP) cable delivers TIA and ISO performance requirements for shielded category 6A/class EA.

Why are copper pairs twisted?

When telephone lines were first deployed alongside power lines, Alexander Graham Bell, popularly known as the inventor of the telephones, was the first person to twist copper pairs to reduce crosstalk between the lines. Twisting the copper cable every 3-4 utility poles allowed for the reduction of electromagnetic interference and an increase in range. Ethernet copper cables adopted the same technique to reduce crosstalk between internal wires (XT) and external wires (AXT).

Shielded (FTP) vs. Unshielded (UTP)

Twisted pair copper comes in shielded an unshielded forms. Shielded copper cable includes protective conductive coating such as braided strands of copper, copper tape or conductive polymer to reduce noise interference. Unshielded Twisted Pair, or UTP, includes no shielding and is ideal for most common LAN environments. Shielded twisted copper pairs, are reserved for networking environments with higher frequencies.

Unshielded (UTP) vs. Shielded (FTP) Ethernet Cables

There are many types of shielded copper pairs. Sheathing can also envelop all four data pairs. Sheathing can wrap around twisted pairs.There are two sections to a shielded “code”. The first letter signifies the type of shield used to enclose all four twisted pairs of an Ethernet cable. An Unshielded cable is marked with a (U), a cable with Foil Shielding is marked with an (F), and a cable with Braided Shielding is marked with an (S). The second portion of the code, describes if a twisted pair is foiled (F) or Unfoiled (U). TP stands for Twisted Pair.

Shielding Code:

TP: Twisted Pair
U: Unshielded or Unscreened
F: Foil Shielding
S: Braided Shielding

Types of Shielded Ethernet Cables

F/UTP– Foiled/Unshielded Twisted Pair
Common in Fast Ethernet deployments, this cable will have a foil shield that wraps around unshielded twisted pairs.
S/UTP– Braided Shielding/ Unshielded Twisted Pair
This cable will wrap a braided shield around unshielded twisted pairs.
SF/UTP– Braided Shielding+Foil/Unshielded Twisted Pairs
This cable braids a shield around a foil wrap to enclose unshielded twisted pairs.
S/FTP– Braided Shielding/Foiled Twisted Pair
This cable wraps a braided shield around all four copper pairs. Additionally, each twisted pair is enveloped in foil.
F/FTP-Foiled/Foiled Twisted Pair
This cable encloses all copper pairs in foil. Additionally, each twisted pair is enveloped in foil.
U/FTP-Unshielded/Foiled Twisted Pairs
This cable only envelopes the twisted pairs in foil.
U/UTP-Unshielded/UnshieldedTwisted Pair
No sheathing is used. Standard Cat5e cable are examples of U/UTP cables.

Solid vs. Stranded Ethernet

These terms refer to Ethernet conductors. Stranded copper cables comprise of several thin copper cables. Solid cable conductors comprise of a single, thick copper cable conductor.

3 Ethernet Cabling Alternatives

Although WiFi is a convenient luxury – one that we’ve grown accustomed to – it certainly has its shortcomings: random dropouts, slow speeds, and limited range are all issues that must be contended with.

Ethernet cables (including PoE) are a great way to alleviate many of WiFi’s shortcomings. You can route Ethernet cables through your home or office, providing a direct, fast, and secure connection to all of your devices. You won’t have to worry about losing signal or slow WiFi connections due to thick walls or too much distance.

However, sometimes running Ethernet cables can also be a pain in the neck. Especially if you’re new to the networking space, running Ethernet cables through the floor or the wall can be challenging.

If only there was a way to make use of the existing infrastructure, rather than having to painstakingly run cables yourself…

Enter Ethernet cabling alternatives. Luckily, there are several great ways to make use of the existing cabling in your place of work; whether you use the electric, phone, or COAX cables, you don’t necessarily have to spend your precious time and hard-earned money configuring network cables.

Powerline Adapters

Powerline adapters are one of the popular Ethernet cabling alternatives – they are devices that send data signals via your home’s electrical wiring.

You may be wondering how data can be sent to devices via power lines – shouldn’t they be busy transmitting electricity?

Well, comparatively to sound and the frequency of a WiFi band, AC power lines have their own waveforms with a frequency of 50-60Hz (depending on where you live). Powerline adapters use different frequencies, from 2,000,000 to 86,000,000 Hz (2-86 MHz). Similarly, DSL internet uses phone wiring to send data using a different frequency.

Although powerline’s theoretical maximum performance is approximately 2 Gbit/s, your real-world performance is going to be 100-200 Mbit/s. Still, this data speed is sufficient even for streaming video in 4K resolution. Moreover, powerline adapters have better network consistency and latency than traditional WiFi.

It’s also important to note, however, that data rates may suffer due to old and outdated electrical wiring. Moreover, if you try to use two powerline adapters that are far from one another, let’s say several stories apart, speeds will also deteriorate quickly.

You may want to try configuring your powerline network with different outlet combinations in an effort to optimize network speeds, as some outlets will prove more useful than others.

High power devices such as televisions and microwaves could cause slowdowns if they’re running on the same circuit.

Lastly, you’ll only be able to establish a powerline network if both outlets are connected to the same breaker box. If you’re in a large home or office with multiple breakers, you won’t be able to use powerline if both of the outlets aren’t connected to the same circuit.

When it comes to powerline networks, less is more. If you use too many, the network will become congested. If you are attempting to configure an enterprise network, traditional Ethernet and PoE is going to be your best bet.

With that being said, it would be wise to buy your first set of powerline adapters from a store offering a good return policy. This way, you can get your money back if powerline proves to be less than ideal for your home or office.

When it comes to installing powerline adapters, it’s actually pretty easy. Simply connect an ethernet cable into your router, and plug the other end into the wall outlet.

Next, plug the other powerline adapter into the wall near your device, and then plug the last ethernet cable into your device. It’s as easy as pie!

Make sure you plug your adapters directly into the wall UPS battery backups, power conditioners, surge protectors, power and strips may filter and block networking frequencies, mistaking them for unwanted noise.

It would also be wise to follow your powerline adapters security instructions after installation, especially if you are living in an apartment or townhouse. You can set up a password for the powerline network, keeping your sensitive information safe from unwanted eyes.

Anyone sharing an electrical circuit with you has the ability to access your powerline network if it is not password protected. Just like you password protect your WiFi network, you also need to secure your powerline network.

PoLRE

Power over Long Reach Ethernet (PoLRE) is another one of the easy alternatives and is a fantastic way to provide network data to devices that are too far away from your router to receive a reliable WiFi signal.

Marketed by Cisco, PoLRE uses telephone-grade unshielded twisted pair wiring to send data signals through your home using the existing infrastructure. No latency issues associated with WiFi, and no Ethernet installation headaches.

PoLRE over COAX extender kits give the user the ability to exceed the 100-meter limitation of standard Ethernet cables. This option, unlike powerline adapters, allows you to supply not only data signal but power as well to your PDs (Powered Devices). This includes but is not limited to VoIP phones and WAPs (Wireless Access Points) at any location in your home or office with the existing infrastructure.

Ethernet over COAX (MoCA Adapter)

Just like powerline adapters, MoCA adapters are faster than WiFi and far easier to install than traditional Ethernet cabling, making them one of the easier alternatives.

MoCA adapters use the existing COAX cabling in your home to transmit networking frequencies from your router to your devices. MoCA, also known as Multimedia over COAX, allows you to achieve network speeds close to that of a traditional Ethernet network without having to run Ethernet cables through your house.

This is particularly useful if your router is on one side of your house, but your network devices are on the other side. MoCA adapters have a theoretical maximum network speed of up to 1 Gbit/s – although, similarly to powerline adapters, actual speeds will likely be lower than the ideal maximum.

The current MoCA generation is a 2.0 bonded signal. You can use the same COAX cable that was previously only used by your television, meaning installing a second cable is not necessary.

Unfortunately, AT&T and DirectTV’s U Verse setup do not support MoCA. If you have either of the service providers previously listed, you’ll have to explore other options.
Some modern modems already support MoCA, meaning you’ll only have to buy one MoCA adapter where you want to deliver the network signal. Otherwise, you’ll have to buy two adapters: one to convert Ethernet signal to COAX signal, and the other to convert the COAX signal back to Ethernet once it has reached its final destination.

As far as installation goes, it’s actually pretty easy. First, attach a PoE filter to your router where you’d normally connect the COAX cable. It screws on easily as your COAX cable normally would, and it prevents the MoCA signal from going into your router.

You’ll also need to install a second PoE filter where the COAX cable enters your home, preventing the data signal from being transmitted to the main line. This added security will ensure the safety of your network from intruders on the same COAX line.

In any event, MoCA is a fantastic way to provide network signal to your devices that are too far from your router to receive a strong WiFi signal, without shelling out a bunch of time and money.

All in all, choosing the correct PoE cabling or alternatives is an important task that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Every space that demands an ethernet solution needs one appropriate for its unique regulations, safety standards and long-term performance. Hopefully the information here will help you make an informed decision.

If you want any help with deciding what the best PoE cables are for your needs, don’t hesitate to contact us. We take pride in helping your project run smoothly.