What is an Ethernet Patch Cable?
Written by Rita Mailheau, Information Security & Technology Writer
Two buddies graduated high school and moved into apartments. Both men were avid gamers and often gamed at home during their free time. The first man got a job in sales and was taking college classes at night to get a bachelor's degree. The second went to school during the day, delivered pizza at night, and was able to financially fill in rent and tuition payments from the proceeds he earned in gaming competitions.
The first connected to the network using WiFi.
The second man used an Ethernet patch cable plugged directly into his router. Why?
To the first man, sudden lapses in network speed weren't a big deal because though he loved gaming--it was only a form of relaxation. The second man, however, needed to ensure the highest response rate to capitalize on nanoseconds. The added speed and stability of his internet connection over a patch cable allowed him to simulate the kind of responsiveness he would need to win in tournaments while he was training at home.
Thanks to the Ethernet patch cable, he could use his router as a robust IT networking tool.
What an Ethernet patch cable is
Ethernet patch cables or straight-through cables connect powered devices (PD) of different types, such as lighting systems, digital display monitors, computers or any of the new IoT devices on the market right now to a network switch or Ethernet hub.
Ethernet patch cables constructed of stranded copper work well within a small space and may frequently move without damage to the copper strands. In contrast, Ethernet cable with solid core construction can be damaged with too much handling.
NOTE: the use of stranded copper Ethernet cabling is only appropriate where the distance is less than 75-feet in length. For indoor cables, use fire rated jackets such as riser or plenum. Outdoor rated Ethernet cables are not fire rated and therefore are not meant to be used inside a structure.
Where to use an Ethernet patch cable
Ethernet patch cables, also called patch cords, are short lengths of Cat5e, Cat6 or Cat6A used to connect PDs to networks. For home use, described in the scenario above, that might be your gaming console and your router.
In businesses, IT administrators also use patch cables to connect two or more “backbone” devices such as switch to switch, or patch panel to switch. Patch cables not only send data signals, but also carry PoE or Power over Ethernet to power a remote device such as a stand alone WiFi Access Point.
The backbone network equipment such as switches may stay the same over the life of the network, but the end point work area devices they connect can and do change, as will the Ethernet patch cable. Ethernet patch cables usually connect PDs within the same room and often connect equipment in racks over short distances.
How an Ethernet patch cable differs from a structured cable
In contrast to the short distance flexible deployments achieved with patch cabling, structured cabling describes the extensive type of cabling deployment complete with all of the associated hardware, and providing comprehensive in-building infrastructure.
Structured cabling infrastructure supports systems like telephone service and IT networks that transmit data and can extend up to 100 meters (328 feet).
Structured cabling can consist of up to six subsystems:
- Work area
- Horizontal cabling
- Backbone cabling
- Equipment room
- Telecommunications closet
- Entrance facilities
Horizontal cabling describes riser rated or plenum rated cabling, connecting telecommunications rooms to individual outlets or work areas on the floor, usually through the wires, conduits or ceiling spaces of each floor.
Structured cabling for permanent setups
Structured cable works in one-and-done situations. In that setting, the term Permanent Link often comes up. A permanent link is all or part of a ‘permanent’ or fixed network intended to stay in place. That would include a patch panel, LAN cable and an outlet.
Once it’s installed, test the permanent link. This link becomes the foundation to support network reliability. These cables stay put. When patch cords are attached, they may also be tested in line with the Permanent Links and this is referred to as the Channel.
The cable in between the data outlet and the patch panel is structured. The cables on the outside of each of these connection points are patch cables. The PDs they connect to may change from time to time, but the horizontal cable in the middle rarely changes.
Recommendations around Ethernet patch cable selection
Ethernet patch cabling appears in both business and home settings. The next step in this discussion is for you, the reader, to be able to make the right choice for your Ethernet patch cabling implementation.
Cat5e works well for home and small business networks and supports speeds to 1 Gigabit. This is the least costly choice, and the minimum Category recommended for any Ethernet network. It handles data well, but PoE support may become a concern when lengths get longer due to a thinner copper conductor.
Cat6 works well for home, business and public buildings and supports speeds from 1 Gigabit to 10 Gigabit depending upon length and the IEEE network protocol in use, such as NBASE-T. This is by far and away the most versatile option when costs are also taken into account.
Cat6A is the most forward-looking choice of the three grades of Ethernet and supports 10 Gigabit speeds to the maximum distance that Ethernet can be run.
For further insight for your specific cabling needs, please feel free to contact us. We love to help you achieve your most successful installation.
Ethernet patch cable configurations: business networks versus home networks
Businesses use Ethernet patch cabling in office buildings, call centers, data centers, warehouses, retail outlets, public buildings and transit centers, and even in remote outdoor settings, such as on-campus security cameras, gates and kiosks.
Two primary considerations determine which Ethernet patch cable to use for your business.
First, your Ethernet patch cables need stranded copper wires inside for flexibility. Patch cables may be moved periodically, and stranded copper resists breakage, while solid copper may develop stress fractures from bending.
Secondly, you can determine your choice of Ethernet patch cable by the power level your PDs require. The newer the technology, the more robust the cable. The newest of these developing technologies have power budgets of up to 90W and include things like LED lighting platforms, tilt/pan/zoom (PTZ) security camera systems, and high-performance wireless systems.
Current IoT speeds and data requirements demand Cat6 and Cat6A Ethernet cabling, as these higher performance cables support faster data and higher PoE power, especially over long distances and where ambient temperatures may be higher.
For home networking, Cat5e is a go-to for many homeowners and works well for sound systems and computers and wireless access points. If you have a smart home, though, and are in the process of bringing new technologies into the mix, go for Cat6 as your most cost effective yet forward looking option.
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