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What Is an Ethernet Cable and Why Is It Used?

Ethernet is an Internet technology that facilitates the connection between different devices on a single network. An Ethernet cable, also referred to as a network cable, is a type of cable used to connect computers, routers, switches, and other devices within a local area network (LAN). Plugging this cable in allows data to travel directly between connected devices via a unique language known as a protocol.

How to Choose an Ethernet Cable for Your Network

If you are buying an Ethernet cable for the first time, focus on these several features and you'll make a good decision.

What Cat Cable Do You Need?

Your choice of the Ethernet cable can affect how your network functions. This table compares the speeds and benefits of various Ethernet connections.

Category

Max. Data Rate

Bandwidth

Max. Distance

Usage

Best For

Cat5e

1,000Mbps (1Gbps)

100MHz

100m (328ft)

100Mbps Ethernet, residential homes

Those with standard Internet plans looking for an affordable upgrade

Cat6

10,000Mbps (10Gbps)

250MHz

1Gbps at 100m (328ft)
10Gbps at 37m (121ft)

Gigabit Ethernet, commercial buildings

Those looking to improve network stability

Cat6a

10,000Mbps (10Gbps)

500MHz

100m (328ft)

Gigabit Ethernet in data centers and commercial buildings

Those with Internet speeds exceeding 1Gbps looking for an Ethernet cable that won’t be outdated in the next several years

Cat7

10,000Mbps (10Gbps)

600MHz

100m (328ft)

10Gbps core infrastructure

Those looking for faster data transfers

Cat8

25Gbps (Cat8.1)
40Gbps (Cat8.2)

2000MHz

30m (98ft)

25Gbps/40Gbps core infrastructure

Those looking for a viable solution to support data centers and server rooms

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the difference between Cat5 and Cat6?

A: For cable runs up to 50ft, Cat6 is capable of 10Gbps vs. 1Gbps for Cat5e. If your business requires fast transmission speeds, Cat6 is the better choice. It's also important to note that for longer runs, Cat5e and Cat6 cables perform exactly the same, providing only a 1Gbps data transfer rate.

Q: Should I upgrade from Cat5e to Cat6?

A: Upgrading to Cat6 makes sense if the equipment on either end can be 10 Gbps. For example, the higher bandwidth would benefit core network connections between switches, routers, or bridges.

Q: What are the differences and advantages between shielded and unshielded types?

A: Unshielded: There is no shielding layer, and four pairs of transmission lines are intertwined to form a local area network, such as small and medium-sized enterprise data centers. Advantages: Cheap and easy to install. Disadvantages: Unable to shield more electromagnetic interference.
Shielded: There is an internal shielding layer. The shielding layer refers to aluminum foil and braided mesh. Advantages: Shielding electromagnetic interference and signal noise; good confidentiality performance; higher transmission rate than similar UTP cables.

Q: Is WiFi faster than Ethernet?

A: An Ethernet connection is generally faster than a WiFi connection and provides greater reliability and security. Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is slower and more prone to interference but offers a lot of flexibility and freedom of movement.