The 4 Types of Network Cables Explained

The 4 Types of Network Cables Explained

There’s no use denying it – we’re in our wireless era. From smartphones to smart homes, our world is embracing cable-free connectivity. At least, so we think. However, beneath the glossy surface of our interconnected world lies a well-designed and well-maintained cabling system that makes it all possible.  

So, if you’re experiencing connectivity issues – or lags that would put a sloth to shame – it’s probably time to upgrade your network cables. But with so many options, knowing where to start can be challenging. But don’t worry – that’s what this blog is for. Be prepared to learn everything there is to know about the four network cable types and what they can do for you!  

First, What is Network Cabling?   

Network cabling refers to the cables, connectors, and related components that transmit data between computers, servers, routers, and other networking devices. The effectiveness of network cabling hinges on several factors:  

  • Cable Length: This is critical. If a cable’s too short, you won’t reach your intended destination. Too long, and you risk signal degradation.  
  • Shielding: Typically, network cables come with a shield to protect them from electromagnetic interference (EMI) caused by other electronic devices (computers, printers, etc.). If cables lack shielding, EMI will with its signals, causing slower speeds and connectivity issues. 
  • Data Rate (Speed): A cable’s data rate, or speed, determines how fast it can transfer information. It can range from 100 Mbps to 25,000 Mbps, depending on its category and if it’s intended for commercial or home use.  
  • Installation Environment: Where you install your cables matters. In commercial buildings, cables are often required to have a specific fire and plenum rating, ensuring safety and proper performance in case of fire or specific air circulation requirements.?lect the appropriate network cable for your needs, which brings us to our main network cable types.  

The 4 Network Cable Types 

When hunting for the perfect network cables, you’ll probably encounter these four network cable types. 

1. Coaxial Cables  

Coaxial cables were pioneers in computer network connections. They have a central conductor surrounded by an insulating layer typically made of foam, followed by a metal shield that blocks external interference. All of these layers are protected from physical harm by an outer jacket. Coaxial cables come in single-core and multi-core models, depending on your setup’s complexity. 

Traditional cable installations use coaxial cables to connect your TV to your cable box.  

2. Shielded Twisted Pair Cables (STP)  

Shielded Twisted Pair cables (STP) are widely used in business installations and are made up of – you guessed it – twisted pairs of colored wires encased in metal shields and a plastic sheath. STP cables are a great choice in environments with many electronic devices, allowing you to expand cable distances while maintaining signal integrity.  

3. Unshielded Twisted Pair Cables (UTP)  

Unshielded Twisted Pair cables (UTP) find extensive use in industrial computers and telecommunication companies. Like STP cables, UTP cables consist of twisted pairs of colorful wires but lack the STP’s metal shielding, making them more affordable than most STP offerings. But that doesn’t mean UTP cables don’t have EMI protection! They have specialized circuits that stop EMI in its tracks.  

Ethernet cables are a typical example of STP and UTP and are commonly found in homes and small businesses. These cables connect devices like computers, printers, or routers within a local network.  

4. Fiber Optic Cables  

Fiber Optic cables represent the pinnacle of networking technology. These cables feature a glass or plastic core surrounded by cladding, a buffer, and a jacket for protection. Fiber optics excel in transmitting data over long distances and connecting networks in different locations, which is why so many internet service providers are switching to fiber optics. They come in single-mode (SMF) and multi-mode (MMF) variants, with SMF supporting longer distances and MMF carrying more data.  

Which Network Cable’s Your Best Bet? 

For Basic Networking Needs: Coaxial 

For Locations with High EMI: STP 

For Industrial, Cost-Effective Connectivity: UTP 

For Long-Distance Data Transfer: Fiber Optic (SMF) 

For Companies Needing Higher Data Capacity: Fiber Optic (MMF) 

Understanding The Different Categories of Network Cables  

Each cable type has particular categories, each with its own characteristics and speed limits. Let’s break them down:  

  • Cat 1 and Cat 2: These cables, once the talk of 80s telephone systems, are now outdated for modern data needs. They handled voice well back in the day, but in today’s world of data-driven communication, they fall short.  
  • Cat 3: Popular in the ’90s, Cat 3 cables can handle basic data needs. They might linger in older setups, but we don’t recommend them for anyone needing high-speed data.  
  • Cat 4: These cables supported token ring networks in the ’80s. Though they’re considered outdated now, you might find them in older systems.  
  • Cat 5: This became the Ethernet standard, offering improved speed and less interference. It’s cost-effective and widely used in homes and businesses, especially since the Cat 5e upgrade. 
  • Cat 6 and Cat 6a: Built for better performance, this category reduces interference and supports higher data rates. It’s ideal for tasks like video streaming and large file transfers.  
  • Cat 7 and Cat 7a: Engineered for higher data rates and improved shielding, they’re excellent at minimizing interference in more demanding environments.  
  • Cat 8: The latest and greatest. Cat 8 cables handle an astounding 2000 MHz, perfect for ultra-fast data transfer. Think data centers and high-performance computing.  

When choosing a cable, think about your needs. If you’re running a simple home network, Cat 5e might be plenty. But if you’re dealing with large data transfers or demanding applications, consider Cat 6 or higher.

Home Offices: Cat 5e  

Small Businesses (Up to 50 Users): Cat 6 

Medium-sized Businesses (Up to 500 Users): Cat 6a 

Large Enterprises (500+ Users): Cat 7 

Data Centers & Other High Computing Environments: Cat 8 

types of internet cables

Want to Make the Most of Your Physical Network? Call!  

With a team of trained and experienced cabling professionals, NTouchTel provides free consultations and same-day appointments to discuss and address your structured data cabling needs. Our white-glove cable deployment takes care of everything for you, from comprehensive site surveys to integration with your existing systems. So, what’re you waiting for? Upgrade with NTouchTel today


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