Wireless Internet and cloud computing strategies may seem like they are taking over most of the business’ IT infrastructure, but the actual fact is that wired, private networks are not going away anytime soon.
In fact, Ethernet cable technology has fully advanced keeping the pace with improvements in Wi-Fi technology, and wired networks are normally still faster than their wireless counterparts. In-house networking is still often the wiser move for both businesses and high-usage home offices.
But not all ethernet cables are created equal. There are different cables with different capabilities designed to do different jobs. Here are the basics on the two ethernet cable types that are most commonly used today:
Category 5 and Category 5 enhanced Ethernet cables are essentially two peas in a pod, one and the same cable. The difference is that 5e cables are more thoroughly tested against potential electrical interference, which is a boost to your peace of mind when you are installing cables inside of wall cavities where quick replacement will not be practical later on.
Cat-5e brings you up to a gigabyte of power to speed up your connections. This is more than enough for at home and in most business situations as well.
Each new category of Ethernet cable upgrades the previous one, so Cat-6 is a bit faster than Cat-5. Typically, Cat-5 is more than sufficient; but in situations where file-transfers and communication within a local network is high, Cat-6 might just be worth the extra investment.
Later categories of cable are always made to be compatible with earlier ones, so you don’t have to stick with Cat-5 if the rest of your network is already Cat-5. Some may prefer to keep all cables in their network the same for “consistency’s sake,” but it is not strictly necessary.
Another distinction to be aware of when shopping for new ethernet cables is the solid/stranded dichotomy. Solid cables are usually the choice for business use and for in-wall/in-floor wiring since they offer superior performance and better guard against interference.
But stranded cables are great for travelers and for smaller in-home usage because they are more durable when constantly moved and occasionally bumped.
A final consideration is the distance your cable needs to travel between devices. Each cable has its limitations as to how far it can run before losing signal strength and consistency. That’s just how it is when you use a wired instead of a wireless system.
Cables should travel, so far as possible, the shortest distance between two points to maximize signal life but also avoid passing too close to other electrical devices that could cause interference. With strategically placed routers and switchboards and a great wiring plan, there are few practical limits on how large your local area network (LAN) can grow.
Thinner, 10-base-2 cables can only reach up to 600 feet or so before losing signal strength. Thicker, 10-base-5 cables, on the other hand, can make it over 1,600 feet. Thin Cat-5 cables reach only 324 feet before problems set in, but you can buy thicker 1000ft Bulk Cat5 cable that will stretch the full distance without a glitch.
The bottom line is twofold: wired networks that use Ethernet cables can outperform Wi-Fi in many contexts, but you need to pay close attention to the exact type of ethernet cable you invest in.
Whether you should use Cat-5e or Cat-6 cables, solid or stranded cables, or short or long distance cables all depends on the needs of your operation.