Network Cables Explained

Updated June 27, 2017

Network cable is simple and functional in design and construction. Over the decades, it has evolved as technology has advanced in speed and volume used on home and business networks. All network cable from every era performs the same function of transporting data from one machine to another. From the earliest examples of coaxial cable on token ring networks to the modern Ethernet use, the function has always been sending and receiving information.

Coaxial Cable

Coaxial cable was the cable of choice in the beginning of the computer networking era. Networks were set up like a large ring, and each computer took turns sending data when the one before it was done. This was slow and inefficient by modern standards.

Ethernet Twisted Pair

Modern copper cabling takes the form of twisted pair. It is made up of a bundle of wires that are colour coded and twisted into pairs. The twist of the wire provides protection from inductive crosstalk. The result is that signals don't bleed through from one pair to another.

Straight Through Cables

This category of network cables is referred to as patch cables, Ethernet cables, straight through cables or just by the name of their type, such as Cat5 or Cat6. Those types refer to the category (Cat), and a number meaning what speed and twist type they are. In general, the higher the number, the faster transfer rate supported by the cable. Each is terminated with a clear end called a RJ45 plug; the order of wires is the same on each end or 'straight through,' which gives the cable its name.

Crossover Cables

Where straight through cables are designed to connect computers to switches or routers, crossover cables are designed to connect two individual computers to each other. To facilitate this, the two wires that transmit are switched with the two wires that receive at one end. When computer A sends out data, it goes straight into the receive connection of computer B, and when computer B transmits, the data goes straight into the receive connection of computer A.

Fibre Optic Cables

Fibre Optic cables are strands of specially coated fibreglass that carry data in the form of pulses of light. The cables are always installed in pairs so there is one path for transmission and another for reception. Although fibre is still more expensive than copper, there are several good reasons to use it in most locations; it is much faster than copper, and it is not susceptible to electrical interference.

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About the Author

Beth Bartlett has been freelance writing for nine years, and her work has appeared in such publications as "Meetings South," "Angels on Earth," "American Profile," and "Mental Floss." She also writes a weekly humor horoscope column for print and the Web.