Network Cabling Basics

What is Network Cabling?

Often referred to as communications cabling, network cabling is the primary media through which data is transferred. This may be between computers, routers, switches and/or other network based devices. Network cabling is a major component in any LAN infrastructure. As with all wiring, there are many network cabling options. Each option comes with various sub-categories. Selecting the best option for your project is heavily dependent on the infrastructure’s design, system specifications and  needs.

Twisted Pair Cabling

Twisted pair cabling is a type of cabling in which two conductors of a single circuit are twisted together for the purposes of improving electromagnetic compatibility.

A typical twisted pair network cable is comprised of eight wires in total. These eight wires are twisted into four pairs of two. Each pair is twisted at different “twist rates” in order to eliminate “crosstalk”. Crosstalk occurs when signals traveling through adjacent pairs of wires interfere with each other. To take it a step further, twisted pair cabling can come in one of two options – shielded and unshielded.

Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) is the most affordable, and common, network cabling option found in local network infrastructures. Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) is a twisted pair cable confined in foil or mesh shield. This mesh shield guards the cable against electromagnetic interference. While STP is more expensive than UTP, it is also less susceptible to crosstalk. Likewise, STP can maintain higher data rates than UTP.

Coaxial Cabling

Coaxial (or coax) cable is a type of transmission line, used to carry high frequency electrical signals with low losses.

This type of cable has an inner conductor which is surrounded by a tubular insulating layer. The tubular insulating layer is also surrounded by a tubular conducting shield. One advantage of coax is that the signal only exists in the space between the inner and outer conductors. This allows coaxial cable runs to be installed next to metal objects such as gutters without the power losses that occur in other types of transmission lines.

Coax has been the long standing option for hauling data down telephone poles. However, many Internet Service Providers are upgrading to fiber optics.

Fiber Optics

A Fiber Optic Cable is similar to a copper network cable. However, rather than copper, it contains one or more optical fibers. These optical fibers are used to carry light from the transmitting device to the receiver. The fiber elements are usually individually coated with plastic layers and contained in a protective shield. The type of shielding must be suitable for the environment where the cable will be deployed.

When selecting a network cabling option for a project that has a large electromagnetic interference (EMI) concern, consider fiber optics. Since data in fiber optics is transmitted via photons (light particles), the chance of EMI is eliminated.  

Fiber optic cabling is more expensive than the majority of copper cabling options. However, it offers tremendous value when the project demands high speeds, large bandwidth, and/or consistent reliability. Applications for fiber optic cabling range widely. Such applications may include; data centers, hospitals, banks and many others. 


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