If you have been struggling to understand the difference between your Cat5e and a crossover cable, we can help you. Cables connect powered devices with Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches, making them critical to the functioning of networks. This article will delve into the world of Ethernet cabling to discuss just what an Ethernet cable is, the different types, and their advantages and limitations.

So, let’s get started!

What Is an Ethernet Cable?

An Ethernet cable is used with wired networks. They connect PCs, routers, switches, extenders, and injectors and splitters, within a local area network (LAN). The most basic Ethernet cables are copper and consist of four twisted pairs covered in an outer sheath.

What Does Ethernet Cabling Look Like?

Ethernet cables look like traditional phone cables; however, they are larger because they contain eight wires compared to the four wires in phone cables. Ethernet cable connectors are also larger than those for phone cables.

While phone cables are almost always gray, Ethernet cabling come in various colors: gray, blue, yellow, orange, and white. The color of the cable does not signify any cable functions. Instead, it is there simply to highlight a specific application (the purpose of the connection). However, most outdoor Ethernet cables are black and waterproof.

The most common Ethernet cable is twisted pair, and it is the industry standard. Twisted pair simply means that two wires are twisted together inside the cable. This type of cable has excellent performance and is surpassed only by fiber-optic cabling. Ethernet cabling has the following features:

Shielded vs Unsheilded Cabling

  • The two wires carry data in both directions which reduces electrical noise.
  • They come in an “unshielded” version, which means there is no foil or braided shielding around the wiring. This is the cheapest option.
  • They also come in a “shielded” version, which means the cable comes with a copper or other polymer braided or foil shield. This version is more expensive than unshielded Ethernet cabling but significantly reduces electrical noise and improves connection quality.

Ethernet Cabling Types

There are a variety of types of Ethernet cables:

Straight-through Cables

A straight-through cable (also called a patch cable) is a twisted pair cable used in LANs to connect different types of devices (e.g., connecting a computer to a router). In other words, this is the original Ethernet cable.

Crossover Cables

Crossover cables are an offshoot of the original Ethernet cables. Per Techopedia:

A crossover cable is a type of cable installation that is used for the interconnection of two similar devices. [such as two computers or two switches]. It is enabled by reversing the transmission and receiving pins at both ends so that output from one computer becomes input to the other, and vice versa.

Solid Cables

A solid Ethernet cable has a single rigid copper core for each of its eight conductors. These cables are inflexible and unmovable and are designed to be used in structured set-ups. They are generally used in business networks, offer slightly better performance, and are cheaper than stranded Ethernet cables.

Solid vs Stranded Ethernet Cables

Image Source: cablewholesale.com

Stranded Ethernet Cables

Stranded Ethernet cables have several small strands of wire that are twisted together to form a single conductor. As a result, these cables are flexible, which makes them less likely to break. As a result, the cables are best suited for home use.

Ethernet Cabling Categories

Ethernet cables come in different forms or categories (called “Cat,” for short). Cable categories are numbered from 1 through 8, and each Cat denotes a different level of performance in signal bandwidth, attenuation, and crosstalk. While there are Cats 1 through 4, they are obsolete. The lowest Cat standard recommended is Cat 5, and as the internet keeps getting faster, Cat 5 is on its way to becoming obsolete, too.

The categories now in use are as follows:

  • Cat 5: An older form of Ethernet cable which enables speeds of 10/100 Mbps (megabits per second). While there is still some legacy equipment using Cat 5, it is currently considered to be all but obsolete.
  • Cat 5e: An updated version of Cat 5 that operates at 10/100/1000 Mbps speeds.
  • Cat 6: Enables speeds up to 10 Gbps (Gigabit per second) at 250 MHZ (megahertz) with less crosstalk. However, 10 Gbps speed is only effective up to 164 feet.
  • Cat 6a: An improved version of Cat 6, Cat 6a supports speeds up to 10 Gbps at 500 MHz to 328 feet. This cable offers twice the bandwidth of Cat 6.
  • Cat 7: Offers up to 10 Gbps up to 100 meters (328 feet). It performs similar to Cat 6a cable but supports transmission frequencies up to 600 MHz and has shown in lab tests to transmit up to 40 Gbps at 50 meters (approximately 164 feet) and 100 Gbps at 15 meters (about 49 feet). Cat 7 cable is best suited for data centers and large enterprise networks.
  • Cat 8: Supports speeds of 40 Gbps at 2000 MHz bandwidth. These cables are specially designed for data centers and are pretty expensive.

Ethernet Cable Charts

Advantages and Limitations

There are four significant advantages and limitations to Ethernet cabling to consider:

Advantages of Ethernet Cables

  • Speed: Ethernet connections can support far greater speed compared to wireless connections. Speeds of up to 10 Gbps can easily be achieved, and some Ethernet cables can go up to 100 Gbps.
  • Security: Ethernet cables provide higher security levels than WiFi, which is prone to attacks. Control over who is using your network is a hallmark of Ethernet cabling as hackers cannot get in easily.
  • Reliability: With Ethernet cables, there will be no radio frequency interruptions, less disconnection, and less slowdowns. Since bandwidth is not shared between connected devices, there are no bandwidth shortages either.
  • Efficiency: Some Ethernet cables, such as Cat 6, consume lower amounts of power and are thus considered “power efficient.”

Limitations of Ethernet Cables

  1. Mobility: Unlike WiFi, a device connected via an Ethernet cable is tied to a particular space. Therefore, this type of connection is restricted to areas such as desktops and cannot service mobile devices.
  2. Expandability: Expanding your network will require more routers, switches, and wires, causing additional expenses.
  3. Installation: Ethernet connections usually call for professional help. Often cables will need to pass through walls and floors. Also, different types of cables will most likely be required for various computers and switches.
  4. Connections: With WiFi, you can connect multiple devices at any time. Ethernet cabling requires one cable connection for each particular device.

Round-Up

The bottom line is that Ethernet cables are the backbone of any computer network. Planet Technology USA offers a comprehensive array of Ethernet cables that will fit your networking needs. To take a look at our networking components, begin your journey here.

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