Network cables have been in the development since the Second World War. Technical progress in the last 40 years has made Ethernet Cables a ubiquitous part of our lives. It has become the most common medium for transfer of data in our society. It has also effectively achieved an ideal phase meeting the expectations of its original creators.

The Ethernet cables are generally the last thing, which gets attention while setting up a wired internet network. However, they play a major role in network speed and accuracy along with its stability depending on the type of the cable.

Looking at the history of Ethernet Cables, we can witness its evolution over the years. It has roughly grown by a factor of 10. It has grown from 10 megabytes (M) to 100M, and later from 1 gigabit (G) to 10G. Today, some data centers work at 40G and at times, it goes beyond 100G. However, in the past few years, the progress of Ethernet cables has been under diversification. The demand from the Internet has exceeded its original conception as having a simple use for LAN and WAN only.

The diffusion of ethernet into every single corner of the industry is the driving force behind this demand for diversification. Together with the Internet of Things (IoT), ethernet cables have been inseparable parts of our lives. Thus, for meeting these diversified uses and demands, Ethernet Cables underwent severe evolution. Not just the cable but also, the most significant and important area where changes are happening is in intelligent buildings. It mainly consists of copper cables.

The development of intelligent buildings, along with development of WLAN (Wi-Fi) and IoT, require few more things to create a network. It requires Ethernet Cables to be capable of two vital tasks. One being data transmission and the other being power supply. The power supply refers to Power over Ethernet (PoE). Here, the cable uses Ethernet as the medium for electrical power as well.

The aim of PoE is to gradually unify all low-energy consumption terminals. This becomes simpler when it uses a twisted pair copper cable to create a network. It solves a major problem of linking different terminals with the power outlets. It can connect various units such as:

  • IP Digital Phone
  • Digital Cameras
  • Wireless Access Points
  • LED Lighting
  • Smart Control Systems
  • High Resolution Audio/Video equipment

So what are the different types of ethernet cables?

Generally, users prefer to choose among the Cat5, Cat5E, Cat6, and Cat6A Ethernet cable types. On the other hand, not many of them know that there are actually two main different types of network Ethernet cables available in the market. These are the flat Ethernet cable and round Ethernet cable. Let us compare the flat and round cables and know the main difference between these cable types.

Flat Cables

The Cicoil Corporation from USA made the flat Ethernet cables for the IBM computers after about ten years of World War 2. They are in use in the field of the military, robotics, aerospace, and others since then. These cables become a necessity where high-end computing is in demand. The flat cables provide efficiency in packaging and flexibility in usage. It also contains the ability to reduce electronic noise & vibration during operation.

Round Cables

The round Ethernet cable is a form of an insulated wire. It contains some layers of filler substance. All this together keeps the original circular shape. It helps in minimizing the heating in the Ethernet cables due to the friction. Such filler material also guards the cable from the outer environment. In the industrial and manufacturing fields, the usage of round electrical wires is most frequent.

Apart from flat and round ethernet cables, it can further have classification based on build categories. In the later part of the 1980s, the world saw the introduction of Category 3 cables. It could support voice services as well as 10BASE-T Ethernet. However, this eventually became inapt by the mid 1990’s. By this time, Category 5 had become widely popular. It was able to support faster network speeds up to 100Mbps.

Cat5E

The next phase of cable and connector development came in with the preface of Cat5e. It could support Gigabit network applications with a higher efficiency. Cat5E is in simpler terms, an enhanced version of Category 5. On the other hand, Cat5E standards brought with it some new and more stringent crosstalk specifications. It did allow Gigabit network applications and high data transfer scenario. It had a much more reliable functionality, enough for making Category 5 obsolete.

Cat6

Over the last decade, Category 6 (Cat6) cable and connectors have become a basic requirement. Cat6 Cables are extremely important for creating a network that supports Gigabit network applications. Moreover, a network which supports bandwidth of up to 250MHz.

Both Cat5E and Cat6 plug into the same keystone Jack of your Ethernet jacks, routers, and switches. However, they both have a distinct use, design, and application. Both cables have pair of cables with some twists of copper wires.

The Cat5E Keystone Jack supports speed limit up to 1000 MBPS while the Cat6 cables has a speed limit up to 10GBPS over 120-150 feet. The cost of the cables varies by length and differs from one manufacturer to another. The standard Cat5E costs generally around $0.20 per foot. Moreover, the standard Cat6 costs around 20% higher than the Cat5e.

After the introduction of Cat6, it was costly as compared to Cat5E. This made it almost impossible to use. However, since then, it has proved its worth and its cost also reduced. Today, Cat6 has become the minimum requirement for installing network connections.

Cat6A Cables

The “A” stands for augmented in Category 6A Cables. It supports data rates of 10 Gigabytes per second up to 100 meters. In addition, it also supports a bandwidth of up to 500 MHz. It has begun to growing popularity. The speed of CAT6E has a 10GBPS (Gigabit) limit up to 164 feet and thereafter its speed is same as that of CAT5E.

It is much lighter and slimmer than earlier cables. Its use has been aggressive in the healthcare and educational institutes. Cat6a also provides power over ethernet (PoE), which gives it an edge over others.