Q&A: How to Maximize Ethernet Cable Performance With Connection Hardware Selection
Don: Hey everybody, welcome to The Low-Voltage Lowdown. Today, Dave Harris and I are going to be talking about terminating Ethernet cable with the connectors that are going to get you the best Ethernet cable performance. While this particular subject has been covered at length in our very own Cable Academy, we thought it might be a great idea to bring it all under one roof. You can listen to the full podcast below or find us on major sites like Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
Let’s get to it!
Best Terminations for Ethernet
Don: I'd say the best performing connectivity hardware that you can get for Ethernet cable, especially solid copper Ethernet cable, is what's known as IDC terminations and IDC stands for insulation displacement contact.
So basically IDC terminals hold the solid copper conductors at right angles, and so they're very mechanically stable, much more stable, for example, than an RJ45 termination. The IDC termination hardware also, like keystone jacks, have printed circuit boards inside. Field termination plugs also have this technology where the field termination plug and the keystone jack are actually category rated.
IDC terminations are not typically fitment critical. What that means is you're not overly concerned about the thickness of the copper or the insulation on top of the copper, called the conductor insulation diameter.
RJ45 Connectors Can Cause You Issues
Dave: Crimp on RJ45 connectors don't have impedance matching circuitry. They don't have a superior mechanical connection between the conductor and the terminal.
So for Cat6A channels, we recommend that you avoid the crimp on connector. There are places where it's useful, especially with lower category cable. But we recommend that you don't put more than one of those in your channel if you're looking to achieve 10 gigabits per second.
Use High Quality Ethernet Termination Hardware
Don: One of the things with RJ45s is they do have their uses, like for a modular plug terminated link, which we'll talk about more a little bit here, but, you know, it's only one plug. The problem with RJ45s is they're very fitment critical. You have to make sure you've got the conductor insulation diameter and overall cable jacket diameter correct. This is because you’ve only got so much room to put that cable in and get it terminated into that plug. And if you're using something that's undersized, then you're going to have poor electrical stability, poor mechanical stability, and therefore poor performance.
So when you're picking your hardware, make sure you're picking the high quality stuff. Look for hardware that is component rated, meaning, pre-tested at the factory to make sure they work to spec. That's something I can't stress enough.
How Much Does Ethernet Category Matter?
Dave: By choosing the wrong category of termination, you can actually slow down the speed of your channel. For example, let's say you had a Cat6 cable installed in your structure and for some reason, a keystone jack on the end of it got damaged. Maybe somebody ran into it with a forklift or something. Who knows? But you need to put a new one on and all you have is a Category 5e keystone jack. So can you put that on and will it work? Well, the answer is yes, you can put it on and it will work. But that channel is now a Category 5e channel. It will not operate at faster than 2.5 gigabits per second.
On the other hand, if you had the same situation and you didn't have the Cat5e jack on hand, but you had a Cat6A jack, could you put that on? And would that work? The answer again is yes, and you will achieve Cat6 speeds with that, but you will not achieve Cat6A speed, even though it's a Cat6A jack. Because that channel is now limited by the other hardware (the Cat6 hardware) including the cable.
So the bottom line is — termination hardware is backwards compatible, but not very forwards compatible, at least not without performance issues.
Installing Ethernet Cable Properly
Don: I would just make use of the correct way of actually running and terminating Ethernet cable. Professional installers are not really putting RJ45s on in the field. RJ45s are known as 8P8C, or 8 position, 8 contact plugs. And these devices are used, for example, for a modular plug terminated link. I'll give you an example of where the use case is acceptable - you have a keystone jack on one end of the run and/or a patch panel or a keystone mounted into a patch panel. And then on the other end of the run, you've got an RJ45 that you crimped on manually. As long as you've got the correct fitting RJ45 and you can be sure that we've tested our RJ45s with our cables, so you're going to get the best shot possible at that, you will likely have a very functional modular plug terminated link, and that's something you would use for PoE devices like cameras and WiFi access points.
Don: So with that, I'm going to say thank you for joining us on this podcast. Dave and I had quite a bit of fun talking about it. As a matter of fact, we always love talking about properly terminating and installing Ethernet. So with that, we're going to say you have a great day and happy networking!
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