Ethernet cables are one of the most conventional forms of network cables used for internet networks. They provide a connection within local area networks like routers, switches, and PCs. Generally, they are practically indistinguishable despite their thickness. However, not all the Ethernet cables are the same.

This blog focuses more on the design aspect of Ethernet cables which is taken for granted many a time. For instance, the appropriate use of copper, benefits of twisted pairs for signal propagation, and how we can compare Cat 5 to Cat 6.

A Quick Tour of Ethernet Cable Making

You will find numerous types of Ethernet Cables in the market. For example, there are shielded, unshielded, 4 pair, 25 pair and many more.

The most basic Ethernet cable consists of 4 twisted pairs covered in an outer case. Other basic versions include a spline or star filler which helps in keeping the cable round. Secondly, there are other options available like ripcords and drain wires. Permanent wiring available in both stranded and solid conductor forms. While patch cables are usually stranded, it is advisable to not to bend the cable tighter than four times the outside diameter of the cable. Otherwise, there are chances of degraded performance.

These network cables are halogen-based, covered with polyethylene or PVC. Therefore, in case of fire, halogen-containing plastics release a poisonous gas that forms hydrochloric acid when it comes in contact with water. If you go for Halogen-free cables also known as low smoke zero halogens then these cables won’t produce such gas/acids or other toxic smoke when exposed to flame. Hence, these low smoke sheathing is getting popular.

Here are some of the listed benefits of halogen-free cables:

  • Weight: It reduces overall cable network weight as they are light in weight.
  • Eco-Friendly: As mentioned above there are less toxic chemicals used in construction. Thus, it impacts less downstream.

Some cables are made to combat outdoor UV radiation without possible degradation because they are “UV-rated” or “UV-stable”. Whereas, when non-UV stable cables come in direct contact with sunlight and other substances, it might make the cable jacket slightly greasy.

Coming to 10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX which consists of two pairs data grade twisted-pair to operate. They are Located on pins 1 plus 2 and pins 3 plus 6. Because these two need only two pairs and Cat5e cables have four pairs. The extra pair can be used for PoE. However, 1000BASE-T requires all of those four pairs to operate.

Application of Copper in Cables

When it comes to choosing the conductor for conductive metal, Silver tends to be an ideal one as it contains electricity conductivity of 106% compared to the heated copper. Yet the high cost of silver combined with its low strength limits makes it appropriate for special applications such as joint plating and sliding conduct surfaces.

Copper used in Ethernet cables is not as good a conductor as aluminum. Comparing cubic densities of copper and aluminum, aluminum has 61% of the conductivity of copper. But one pound of aluminum has the same similar electrical conductivity compared to two pounds of copper. However, the decreased conductivity of aluminum means that for the same current capacity, aluminum conductor’s cross segment will be ~50% larger in comparison of copper. This makes copper better suited for applications where the place is a prime requirement. On the contrary, where conductor thickness is an advantage, copper is of rare use. Such as aerial electric power transmission cables.

After reading this major benefit of using copper in Ethernet cables, here are some other benefits of using copper in the next segment.

Benefits of using copper:

  • Tensile Strength: Copper’s high strength is capable to confront stretching, creep, nicks and breaks. It reduces field failures and service obstacles.
  • Ductility: It makes it easy to draw down to diameters with close tolerances. It doesn’t conflict with tensile strength. It means that Copper is just less vulnerable to break under tensile load than other conductors. Thermal Expansion: Copper has a low coefficient of thermal expansion. Aluminum expands about 30% more than copper. A higher degree of expansion, along with aluminum’s lower ductility is prone to electrical problems. Hence, copper makes for the best option.
  • Resistance: Copper provides a safe layer from moisture, industrial pollution, and other components. Another differentiating factor is that oxides or other chemical compounds that form on copper are conductive. Therefore, copper connections and terminations wouldn't overheat due to increased conductor resistance.
  • Strength: Usually, high density of metal is important. As it determines the bending ability of metal. However, with metal, high strength and high ductility make copper a proper choice for Ethernet wiring.

After having an overview of the design and construction side of the Ethernet cables, let’s have a quick look into what are the other factors to look if you are choosing to buy the network cables.

The major difference between network cables is the normal conductor gauge. Cat 5e cables or Cat 5 cables use 24-26 AWG wire. While Cat6/6a cables use slight larger conductors of 22-24 AWG. Therefore, Cat 6 cables have high rated operating frequency. Another aspect to consider is the maximum length of the cable run. If you are using it for 10/100/1000BASE-T, the maximum allowed length for Cat 6 cable is 100 meters. For 10GBASE-T Cat6 cable’s maximum length is 55 meters or less.

In a Nutshell:

There are many factors that affect the choice one makes while buying the network cable. To make the right choice, one has to first understand his needs and requirements. This way one can make the best of these cables.