• Are there different types of Ethernet cables?

    As with most technology, several versions of Ethernet cables evolved over time to suit changing consumer needs. While any Ethernet cable will likely be able to connect you to the Internet, newer cables are built to handle faster communication of more data.
     
    Ethernet cables fall into four different categories (“Cats”): Cat-5, Cat-5e, Cat-6, and Cat-6a. These categories were created in that order, and with each new model comes faster speed and less crosstalk (interference from different channels). Cat-5 and Cat-6 are the two most important categories for customers to know, and either one will likely work for a home network. Both of these cables are about 300 feet long and fit into the same Ethernet port on computers, modems, and routers. Cat-5 cables can provide speeds up to 1 Gbps and Cat-6 cables are designed for speeds up to 10 Gbps. There is a category above the Cat-6, but home Internet speeds and hardware capability aren’t quite ready for the Cat-7.
     
    Just because Ethernet cables can handle lightning-fast speeds doesn’t mean users will notice a faster Internet connection. To maximize the capability of the cables, the user needs to have an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that guarantees 1 Gbps or higher speeds as well as high-speed modems and new computer equipment.
  • How Ethernet cable used

     
    Ethernet cables, similar to enlarged phone cords in shape and appearance, have RJ45 connectors on each end to hook to a router or enabled device. Ethernet cables are twice as wide as phone cords because they contain twice as many cables. They plug into the back of a PC or the side of a laptop, and also can be used with gaming consoles.
     
    Sometimes, an LED indicator light will flash at the point of contact to indicate a connection.
     
    Ethernet is an industry standard in Internet technology supported by all network equipment makers. This makes it possible to connect hardware, regardless of manufacturer.
     
    Even in an environment that supports wireless Internet access, it’s a good idea to carry an Ethernet cable with your computer as a backup for connectivity.
  • Should I upgrade my Ethernet cable?

    Depending on your Internet speed, either a Cat-5 or Cat-6 cable should work for your needs. However, a new Ethernet cable will not guarantee you faster Internet speeds if your other devices you use aren’t up to date. Your hardware and software work together with your ISP to provide you with the fastest Internet speed possible.
     
    There are reasons other than speed to upgrade your Ethernet cable. For users who transfer large amounts of data between computers on a local area network (LAN), an upgrade may be essential. If you are setting up a new network, you may want to use the latest Ethernet cable technology to avoid needing to upgrade in the near future.
  • Category 5 cable(CAT5)

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Category 5 cable, commonly referred to as Cat 5, is a twisted pair cable for computer networks. The cable standard provides performance of up to 100 MHz and is suitable for most varieties of Ethernet over twisted pair. Cat 5 is also used to carry other signals such as telephony and video.
     
    This cable is commonly connected using punch-down blocks and modular connectors. Most Category 5 cables are unshielded, relying on the balanced line twisted pair design and differential signaling for noise rejection.
     
    The category 5 was deprecated in 2001 and superseded by the Category 5e specification.

     
  • Category 6 cable(CAT6)

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Category 6 cable, commonly referred to as Cat 6, is a standardized twisted pair cable for Ethernet and other network physical layers that is backward compatible with the Category 5/5e and Category 3 cable standards. Compared with Cat 5 and Cat 5e, Cat 6 features more stringent specifications for crosstalk and system noise.[1] The cable standard specifies performance of up to 250 MHz.[1]
     
    Whereas Category 6 cable has a reduced maximum length when used for 10GBASE-T, Category 6A cable (or Augmented Category 6) is characterized to 500 MHz and has improved alien crosstalk characteristics, allowing 10GBASE-T to be run for the same 100 meter distance as previous Ethernet variants.


What Kind of Ethernet (Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a) Cable Should I Use?


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Not all Ethernet cable is created equally. What’s the difference, and how do you know which you should use? Let’s look at the technical and physical differences in Ethernet cable categories to help us decide.

Ethernet cables are grouped into sequentially numbered categories (“cat”) based on different specifications; sometimes the category is updated with further clarification or testing standards (e.g. 5e, 6a). These categories are how we can easily know what type of cable we need for a specific application. Manufacturers are required to adhere to the standards, which makes our lives easier.

What are the differences between the categories and how can you know when to use unshielded, shielded, stranded, or solid cable? Keep reading for “cat”-like enlightenment.

Technical differences

The differences in cable specifications is not as easy to see as physical changes; so let’s look at what each category does and does not support. Below is a chart for reference when picking cable for your application based on the standards for that category.

As the category number gets higher, so does the speed and Mhz of the wire. This is not a coincidence, because each category brings more stringent testing for eliminating crosstalk (XT) and adding isolation between the wires.

This does not mean your experiences have been the same. Physically you can use Cat-5 cable for 1 Gb speeds, and I have personally used cable longer than 100 meters, but because the standard has not been tested for it, you’ll probably have mixed results. Just because you have Cat-6 cable, doesn’t mean you have  1 Gb network speeds either. Every connection in your network needs to support the 1 Gb speed and in some cases, the connection will need to be told in software to use the available speed.

Category 5 cable was revised, and mostly replaced with, Category 5 Enhanced (Cat-5e) cable which did not change anything physically in the cable, but instead applied more stringent testing standards for crosstalk.

Category 6 was revised with Augmented Category 6 (Cat-6a) which provided testing for 500 Mhz communication (compared to Cat-6’s 250 Mhz). The higher communication frequency eliminated alien crosstalk (AXT) which allows for longer range at 10 Gb/s.

Physical Differences

So how does a physical cable eliminate interference and allow for faster speeds? It does it through wire twisting and isolation. Cable twisting was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1881 for use on telephone wires that were run along side power lines. He discovered that by twisting the cable every 3-4 utility poles, it reduced the interference and increased the range. Twisted pair became the basis for all Ethernet cables to eliminate interference between internal wires (XT), and external wires (AXT).


There are two main physical differences between Cat-5 and Cat-6 cables, the number of twists per cm in the wire, and sheath thickness.


Cable twisting length is not standardized, but typically there are 1.5-2 twists per cm in Cat-5(e) and 2+ twists per cm in Cat-6. Within a single cable, each colored pair will also have different twist lengths based on prime numbers so that no two twists ever align. The amount of twists per pair is usually unique for each cable manufacturer. As you can see in the above picture, no two pairs have the same amount of twists per inch.

Many Cat-6 cables also include a nylon spline which helps eliminate crosstalk. Although the spline is not required in Cat-5 cable, some manufactures include it anyway. In Cat-6 cable, the spline is not required either as long as the cable tests according to the standard. In the picture above, the Cat-5e cable is the only one with a spline.

While the nylon spline helps reduce crosstalk in the wire, the thicker sheath protects against near end crosstalk (NEXT) and alien crosstalk (AXT) which both occur more often as the frequency (Mhz) increases. In this picture the Cat-5e cable has the thinnest sheath, but it also was the only one with the nylon spline.

Shielded (STP) vs. Unshielded (UTP)

Because all Ethernet cables are twisted, manufactures use shielding to further protect the cable from interference. Unshielded twisted pair can easily be used for cables between your computer and the wall, but you will want to use shielded cable for areas with high interference and running cables outdoors or inside walls.
 


There are different ways to shield an Ethernet cable, but typically it involves putting a shield around each pair of wire in the cable. This protects the pairs from crosstalk internally. Manufactures can further protect cables from alien crosstalk but screening UTP or STP cables. Technically the picture above shows a Screened STP cable (S/STP).
 


Solid vs. Stranded

Solid and stranded Ethernet cables refer to the actual copper conductor in the pairs. Solid cable uses a single piece of copper for the electrical conductor while stranded uses a series of copper cables twisted together. There are many different applications for each type of conductor, but there are two main applications for each type you should know about.


Stranded cable is more flexible and should be used at your desk or anywhere you may be moving the cable around often.

Solid cable is not as flexible but it is also more durable which makes it ideal for permanent installations as well as outdoor and in walls.

 

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