There are different types of cables for networking, but some are more commonly seen in network environments. Learn more about the main types of networking cables, including two types of twisted pair cables–UTP and STP–and the characteristics, pros, and cons of each. Then, learn about coaxial and fiber optic cables.
Networking Cables 101
If you ‘ve ever wanted to learn how to maintain your network, you’re going to want to learn the basic types of cables you will run into along the way. The most basic cable types include twisted pairs, coaxial, and fiber optic cables. All of these cables have their own set of specific purposes and ideal environments that they thrive in.
Twisted Pair Cables
A twisted pair means that the cable is designed with two independent insulated wires wrapped around each other. This method is used as a means to reduce interference from the electromagnetic spectrum, which allows the network devices to run smoother with less noise from outside sources (noise can come from multiple sources, such as power lines). There are two different types of twisted pair cables, shielded twisted pair (STP) and unshielded twisted pair (UTP):
- STP cables have an extra covering that acts as a ground to the phone cable to carry data at faster rates.
- UTP cables don’t have this extra covering, but that’s not to say they are lousy networking cables. In fact, UTP cables are the most popular and commonly used cables today.
Let’s take a look at some twisted pair cable types.
Types of UTP
Twisted pair cables help to cut back on noise, but there are a few other things you should know about them. There are currently a total of nine categories, ranging from CAT1 to CAT5, CAT5e, CAT6, CAT6a, and CAT7.
- CAT1 – CAT3 isn’t standard anymore, and were used in older phone lines
- CAT4 is commonly used in token ring networks. It supports 16 Mbps with a range up to 100 meters.
- CAT5 is what many people may have in their homes with Ethernet-based networks. It contains two twisted pairs and supports 100 Mbps with a range up to 100 meters.
- CAT5e uses four twisted pairs over an Ethernet connection. It supports 1000 Mbps (gigabit network speeds) with a range up to 100 meters.
- CAT6, CAT6a, and CAT7 also contain four twisted pairs and are the future standard for networking cables. They have a base data rate of 10 Gbps with a range up to 100 meters.
Also, the most specific and common type of UTP connector cable is known as an RJ-45. These cables are likely what you have for your home network.
UTP vs. STP
Let’s take a closer look at the significant pros and cons of UTP:
- They’re smaller than STP, making them physically easier to deal with and install
- They’re cheaper, with much less worry about wear and tear due to lack of extra shielding
- They’re the most common of the two and are used in a variety of situations
- The lack of the extra shielding is the only major drawback compared to STP
Let’s take a closer look at the significant pros and cons of STP:
- The single most significant advantage STP has is the extra shielding, which allows for maximum performance while cutting back on electrical interference.
- They’re more expensive because of the extra shielding feature
- They’re also more massive because of the shielded casing
- They’re more complicated to set up because they need to be adequately grounded in order for maximum performance
- The shielding on the cables is very fragile, and quality can be easily compromised if slight damage should occur
UTP is the most common choice, but there is one particular situation where STP reigns as the supreme choice. If the environment has a tremendous amount of electromagnetic interference, the extra shielding capability of STP will cut down on the surrounding electrical noise.
Coaxial vs. Fiber Optics
A coaxial cable is something that many of us have had installed in our homes by our internet service providers. This is then hooked up to the cable modem.