What is Copper Cable in Networking: An Overview

Posted by Mike Chen on September 14, 2021

Cables are often described as the “pipes” of the network, the conduit through which data flows. Just as plumbing pipes come in various “grades,” Ethernet cables have different “categories” that determine the amount of data that can move through the network. It’s essential to choose the right category to meet network requirements.

The Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) established the concept of categories, and the standard is now maintained by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). The ANSI/TIA 568 C.2 standard defines twisted pair cabling Categories 3 through 6a. It is designed to ensure that products from different manufacturers are compatible and to provide buyers with the information they need to select the right products.

But what do the various category designations mean in practice? The higher categories represent newer generations that deliver greater performance. Cat6 and Cat6a are good choices for today’s networks.

Data Rate, Bandwidth, and Shielding

What is the purpose of twisted pair cables?

Twisted pair cable has been around since the advent of the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell introduced the practice of twisting copper cables to reduce electromagnetic interference and increase range. Tighter twists and higher gauge wires enable the higher transmission frequency of later generations of cables.

Data Rate vs. Frequency

Frequency is the rate of the signal cycle per second, which determines the bandwidth of the cable. Data rate is a related but different concept that refers to the number of bits transmitted each second. 

Copper Cable Distance Limit

The specified speeds of copper twisted pair cables are limited to distances of 100 meters. After that, the signal begins to degrade, although good quality cable can support somewhat longer runs.

What is the difference between shielded and unshielded ethernet cables?

Categories 3 through 5 call for unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cabling, while Cat6 and Cat6A can be shielded or unshielded. Although the twisting reduces crosstalk and interference, shielding provides greater protection and enables the higher speeds of Cat6 and Cat6a. It also increases the cost and thickness of the cable — important considerations.

Types of Copper Cables Used in Networking

Cat5 and Cat5e Cables

Many existing Ethernet networks are based upon Cat5 and Cat5e cabling. Introduced in 1995, Cat5 cabling has a data rate of up to 100Mbps over distances up to 100 meters. Cat5e is an unofficial designation used by manufacturers for “enhanced” Cat5 cabling with data rates up to 1Gbps.

Cat6 and Cat6a Cables

Cat6 cabling was first introduced in 2002 to provide data rates up to 1Gbps for up to 100 meters and 10Gbps per second for up to 50 meters. As network performance demands have continued to increase, Cat6 has become the minimum standard for new installations. Cat6a (augmented) delivers 10Gbps for the full 100 meters. Both Cat6 and Cat6a are backward compatible with Cat5 and Cat5e.

Cat7 Cables

Cat7 provides 10Gbps for up to 100 meters and can theoretically support 40Gbps and 100Gbps over shorter distances. However, it’s a proprietary design not specified in the EIA/TIA standard, and networking equipment may not support its higher speeds. 

Cat8 Cables

The latest addition of Cat8 cable operates at 2Ghz bandwidth with a maximum data rate of 40Gbps, similar to Cat7. However, like Cat7, due to its high-speed performance, the cable density and shielding quality are also improved significantly to a whole different scale, and costs are higher. Cat8 is not yet widely available, but the demand is expected to grow over time. However, as more and more people migrate to fiber networks, Cat8 demand will increase.

Cat6 and Cat6a Patch Cords from Enconnex

Enconnex Cat6 and Cat6a patch cords are available in various jacket colors with custom label options and tailored lengths. We also offer smaller outside diameter (OD) cables for more significant space savings and airflow within your rack. Our premium snagless boot protects the RJ45 connector from damage when cables are pulled through bundles and provides strain relief for your patch cable connections.

All Enconnex patch cords are manufactured and tested according to industry standards to ensure the highest quality, optimum performance, and backward compatibility. Each patch cord is assigned a unique serial number label on each end for fast and secure identification. 

We have patch cord inventory on hand and bundle options available as well as a variety of other network cabling products and accessories. Contact our cable specialists to discuss your specifications.

Posted by Mike Chen on September 14, 2021

Mike has 20+ years of senior program management, product management, and consulting experience in IT, consumer electronics, and communication products, both at finished goods and components levels. Mike is the Product Manager for Network Cabling at Enconnex.

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