In the 21st century, the ideal goal would be to eliminate the use of networking cables completely and live in a world where everything is managed wirelessly. Without any more cables to trip over, managing servers would be far easier, and we wouldn’t have to waste time labeling and following hundreds of cables.
Until that time arrives, we are stuck with using old-fashioned networking cables to set up our servers, transfer important data, and operate the machinery that is essential for running our businesses. As such, it is useful to have a general understanding of the types of cables that are currently being used and the purpose that they serve in the IT industry.
Twisted Pair Cables
These are the cables that are used most frequently for Ethernet purposes. They are called “twisted pair” because there are pairs of wires in the cable that are twisted together. This is done to prevent electromagnetic interference from outside sources and other wire pairs in proximity.
There are two main classifications of twisted pair cables: The first one is Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) and Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP). STPs have an extra layer of shielding to make them more resistant to outside interference, and, thus, have an improved ability to maximize bandwidth in comparison to UTPs.
The drawback to this is that they are far heavier and cost more, which is why their primary use is within high-end applications where prevention of interference is a top priority.
The second classification has to do with categories that are separated from one another on the basis of data transfer per second. The categories in standard use are Category 5e (1 Gbps) and Category 6 (10 Gbps), as the older categories have become outdated due to performance standards that do not meet the modern-day demands of the IT industry.
For those of you who grew up a few decades ago, you would have seen these cables in use to connect TVs to home antennas and set up the very first Ethernet networks. They work by having a copper wire covered by insulation and other forms of shielding.
In addition to their heavy weight and thickness, their less-than-stellar data transfer rates (10 Mbps) led to them being phased out when twisted pair cables came into use. These cables are outdated in their use, but they are included in this article because some buildings may still use these ancient cables.
Fiber Optic Cables
These cables work much differently from the ones that have been described thus far. A thin cylinder of glass is surrounded by multiple layers of coating that provide protection and prevent interference. Unlike the other cables, fiber optic cables transmit data using pulses of light. While these cables may be more expensive in cost, they can transfer information at extremely fast speeds in high-traffic environments.
There are two types of fiber optic cables that you need to be aware of. One of them is single-mode. Single-mode fiber allows for transmission of data over long distances by using a single ray of light. Multi-mode fiber carries data over shorter distances by using several rays of light at the same time.
Universal Serial Bus (USB) Cables
Although these types of cables are typically used to connect external devices to the computer for personal use, there are special adapters that will allow an Ethernet cable to indirectly connect to a USB port and function normally. These tend to be used as temporary setups in network cabling until a more reliable type of cabling, such as STP/UTPs or fiber optics, can be properly installed.
As you can see, there is little variety in the different types of network cables that are commonly used. The current trend is trying to re-design these cables to squeeze as much performance and speed out of them as possible. Efforts are being made to kill the world of cables and enter a completely wireless world, but it is difficult to say when this time will come.