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A Beginner's Guide to Ethernet Cabling

What is Ethernet Cabling?

Ethernet cabling uses data transmission cables to create a point-to-point or wide-area network between multiple computing systems. Typically, these cables are found in an office or business environment. Whether setting up an enterprise-grade network or just connecting computers in your home office, this cabling is commonly used in business networks, as it enables fast data transfer speed, low latency, and reliable connections. It is also easy to install and configure. Therefore, understanding the fundamentals of Ethernet cabling can help make your network run smoothly.

In essence, the Ethernet cabling is the cables that connect everything in a network. The hardware then links the outside world and the internet or worldwide web.

Here's our beginner's guide to Ethernet cabling.

Different Types and Speeds of Ethernet Cabling

What are the 3 main types of Ethernet cables?

  1. Coaxial Cables
  2. Twisted Pair Cables
  3. Fibre Optic Cables

Network administrators need to understand different types of Ethernet cabling and the data transfer speeds they support. The majority of cables in most commercial installations are covered with twisted pair cables and fibre optic cables. However, coaxial cabling is still used in some high-speed applications such as the coaxial cables running Virgin Media into the home.

Twisted Pair and Fibre Optic Cabling

The structure of most commercial data cabling installations for Ethernet is twisted pair cables from the main cabinet to the user hardware (Wi-Fi, PCs, Phones, etc). Fibre Optic cabling is then used to connect multiple cabinets for higher bandwidth and transmission capabilities.

Types of Twisted Pair Cables

Twisted pair cables are all categories of data cables with pairs of transmission cores twisted in pairs along the length of the cable. The twisting is part of the design of the cable to reduce interference and crosstalk of noise across the cable and between cable core pairs. 

Twisted Pair Cables Include:

  1. Cat5e Cables
  2. Cat6 Cables
  3. Cat6a Cables
  4. Cat7 Cables
  5. Cat8 Cables

 

The most common type of cable used in Ethernet networks in 2024 is Cat6, but it is moving evermore to Cat6a, especially in new builds. Indeed, the new government guidelines for networks in schools and colleges specify that "Copper Cabling should be Category 6A (Cat6A)" - The full specification can be found here.

Cat5e can provide up to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps), which is suitable for many small networks. Therefore, it is still found in smaller installations or projects with a specific budget.

Cat6 or Cat6a cables are required for faster rates, both of which have the capability of 10 Gbps. However, Cat6 has a maximum distance of 55 metres for 10 Gigabit, so Cat6 cable is not recommended. The standardised cable for 10 gigabits is Cat6a cables.

Therefore, due to the high demands of today's technology, Cat5e is slowly becoming obsolete. Cat6a is becoming the new standard for most installations.

Types of Fibre Optic Cables

There are two main categories of fibre optic cabling and several categories. There are also different constructions of fibre cables.

The types of fibre cables are

  1. Singlemode (OS1, OS2)
  2. Multimode (OM1, OM2, OM3, OM4)

We have many other articles to guide you through fibre optic cables here

OM4 is the modern standard for fibre optic cabling, and the network cabling for schools and colleges again specifies this: "Optical fibre cabling should be a minimum 16 core multi-mode OM4"

Assembling the Proper Crimp Connectors

Crimp connectors are an essential component for assembling your Ethernet cabling. Always ensure you are using the correct type of connector for the cable you are using and the hardware it will connect to. 

All Twisted pair cables are terminated on an RJ45 connector; however the choice of connector has many options and will depend on how you want the cable presented at both ends

  1. RJ45 Module
  2. RJ45 Patch Panel
  3. Keystone Jacks RJ45
  4. RJ45 Crimp Plugs

Likewise, Fibre Cabling has several different options for connector hardware but also three main connector types

  1. ST Connectors
  2. SC Connectors
  3. LC Connectors

The majority of modern fibre connectors in 2024 are LC connectors. However, ST and SC connectors are found in legacy installations, so those connectors may be required when adding to an existing patch panel.

Testing and Troubleshooting Ethernet Cabling

The next step in a successful Ethernet cabling setup is testing and troubleshooting your cable network. Be sure to use a data cabling continuity tester to check that a standardised signal flows through the wire. For this testing, we exclusively use Fluke DSX testers, which are the industry-leading testers.

The technician will test both copper and fibre cables in the network. The Fluke DSX will then give a test sheet for each link with a pass or fail. These tests ensure all eight cores and all four pairs in the cable are wired correctly.

Do you need all eight wires for Ethernet?

All eight cores should be terminated. However, we have seen a single cable split across two data modules in the past. Splitting a cable used to happen when someone wanted to install an extra data point and not install a new cable.

This quick fix was okay as a stopgap for 100MB connections. However, gigabit speeds and above require all four pairs to be connected, so this practice is now defunct. 

Tracking your internet speed

What Ethernet cabling do I need for my internet connection?

It all depends on the speed of your internet. If you have a slower connection — 10 or 20 megabits per second, Cat5e cables will be sufficient. However, for faster connections such as gigabit internet (1Gbps and 10Gbps), an updated, higher-speed cable may be necessary to get the full benefit of your connection. 

When considering the type of Ethernet cable needed for your network, assessing your internet connection speed is essential. This connection speed is not just your internet speed, but also the connection speed between your data switches and your switches to your computers, Wi-Fi, phones, etc.

Do you need super-fast speeds when transferring data between computers or streaming ultra-high-bandwidth videos? 

This will all depend on what hardware you have and the requirements for your network. Links between switches (Backbone Links) should always be Cat6a or fibre cabling to give you maximum bandwidth. Cabling links from switches to user hardware should be a minimum of Cat6 but preferably Cat6a cables.

Looking to upgrade your Ethernet cabling? 

Our team can consult on your current cabling system and the options for upgrading your network cabling system. Furthermore, we can test existing cabling systems to ensure they are meeting expectations. Don't hesitate to get in touch with our team for an initial assessment, and we can assist with your questions.

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