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Defining Ethernet Cable

[Q] Is there any difference between ethernet cable and Cat 5 cable?

[A] No. There are various types of twisted-pair cable, such as Cat 5, Cat 5e, Cat 6, that are all ethernet cable. Ethernet is a type of networking technology, and many different types of cable have been developed over the years, each have unique properties that define how much signal it can carry, and what kind of transmission distance limitations it will have.

The following is a brief history of the development of some key types of ethernet cable over the past 20 years:

10base5 - The original "full spec" cable. An Ethernet cabling specification operating at 10 Megabits Per Second. Maximum single cable length of 500 metres. Normally carried on RG8 large diameter coaxial cable. The outer sheath is usually yellow, and the cable was often referred to as "yellow cable" for this reason.

10base2 - Also known as "thinnet". This variant of Ethernet uses thin coaxial cable, RG-58 or similar, and operates at 10 Megabits Per Second. A single cable can have a maximum length of 200 metres.

10baseT - A variant of Ethernet that allows connectivity between devices using twister pair cable. Twisted pair cable will contain (usually 4) pairs of wires that are each twisted at a slightly different ratio than the other pairs. This is done to reduce the effects of cross-talk. Cross talk is when the signal in one pair of wires has an unwanted effect on other wires within the same cable.

100baseT - A variant of Ethernet that was developed in the late 1980's to early 1990's. This is Unshielded Twisted Pair cable, and can carry a 100 Megabit Per Second signal. Any of several standards apply, such as 100BaseTx, that is,100 Megabits Per Second over 2 pair Cat5 or better cable. There is 100BaseT4, 100 Megabits Per Second over 4 pair Cat3 or better cable.

Unshielded Twisted Pair cable has continued to develop, eventually producing Cat 5e cable (enhanced), and Cat 6 cable as well. Understanding the basic 3 types of UTP (Unshielded Twisted Pair) cable is really a matter of basics:

Cat5 - A twisted pair cable (typically 4 pairs) designed to operate at speeds up to 100 Megabits Per Second.

Cat 5e - A twisted pair cable, with improvements to the transmission speed and twist ratio of the pairs. Designed for less cross talk between pairs, and allows transmission speeds up to 1 Gigabit Per Second. In order to acheive Gigabit Ethernet, this would be the minimum standard cable to use. Cat 5e cable is the choice for almost all new installations, including the use of patch and crossover cables. Because a good quality Cat 5e will operate at the same speed as Cat 6, most installers and end users alike are opting not to waste the extra money for Cat 6.

Cat 6 - A twisted pair cable, almost identical to Cat 5e. Specifically designed for Gigabit Ethernet. This cable is basically just a higher standard Cat 5e cable that will consistently deliver 1 Gigabit Ethernet. The other major difference in this cable is the plug. Even though it is still an RJ45 connection, (like cat 5 and cat 5e) the RJ45 plugs used in the construction of Cat 6 cables are slightly different from those used in Cat 5 or cat 5e. Many of the plugs have the pairs offset at any angle, as opposed to the Cat 5 and Cat 5e plugs that have all 8 wires side-by-side in the plug. No concern to the end user whatsoever. This is more of an observation to those who terminate these cables.

In short, Ethernet has evolved from using mainly large, bulky, coaxial style cables, to the modern twisted pair cables of Cat 5, Cat 5e, and Cat 6. Of the three, Cat 5e appears to be the peoples choice, based on the amount of Cat 5e cable being used in new installations, and in the production of patch cables and crossover cables being produced and sold. This is most likely due to the fact that as stated earlier, a quality Cat 5e cable product will operate at Gigabit speeds. It has shown to be very reliable, and because there is no real benefit to using Cat 6 cable in the same application. Cat 5e cable is also much less expensive than Cat 6, while giving the same performance.

CAT 5 Cable Company provides CAT 5 and CAT 5e patch and crossover cables for all networking aplications in 9 colors, and any custom length. Hand assembled and 100% tested to ensure the finest quality.

RELATED FAQ QUESTION: What is the difference between CAT 5 and CAT 5e cable?

Keywords: Cat 5, Cat 5e, Cat 6, Ethernet cable, patch cable, crossover cable

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