Only Connect: A guide to Ethernet cable

Welcome to another post in the series by Nick Locke, of Nicab Ltd, who has over 15 years experience in the electronics manufacturing industry specialising in interconnection cable assembly.

ethernet cable

In a recent conversation regarding Ethernet network cables it occurred to me that many people still get confused over the various different types so the following guide will help you to understand what to ask for when using Ethernet.

Firstly you need to decide if you are going to go for Cat 5e (gigabit) or Cat 6 (up to 10gb). We won’t go into the differences here as for this guide both types have the same properties.

Solid or stranded?

There are two basic types of cable used in Ethernet Solid and Stranded Conductor used in very different ways. Solid is used in fixed cable installations (horizontal cabling) which is the cable used in buildings, for example the cable that links the network outlet on your wall to your data cabinet.

Stranded cable is used in the patch leads used to connect your PC to the wall outlet and is designed to be flexible and undergo many flexes.

The reason we have solid and stranded cable is mostly down to price as stranded cable is more expensive to manufacture than solid.

Screened or Unscreened?

The most common cable is Unscreened (UTP). However, screened is used in industrial or environments susceptible to electro / magnetic noise. If you do use screened cable then you have three basic options: FTP, STP, and STP. These stand for Foil Twisted Pair, Shielded Twisted Pair, and Screened Foil Twisted Pair where the screened is usually a braided screen.

Wire Gauge

Normally all UTP cable is 24 AWG and all screened is 26 AWG. There are, however, some variants especially in industrial cables, but these are not the norm.

The above guide does not include every perceivable option however, if should give you a good idea of what the different terms mean and make some sense of all the different types out there.

Nick Locke, Nicab Ltd


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