CAT5 Cable Deconstructed
The outer sheath of the Cat5 cable comes in bright colors, with blue and yellow being two of the most common color choices. Oftentimes, in larger applications such as the IT industry, these colors can signify different uses to help technicians remain organized. There are four pairs of 24-gauge copper wires inside the sheath. These sheathes of the inner wires come in industry-standard colors that include brown, blue, green, and orange. Each of these twists around a white wire with a colored stripe. This occurs in order to reduce crosstalk and interference from devices such as CB radios, baby monitors, and others.
The Cat5 cable terminates in a connector called an RJ-45, which usually plugs into a computer, a server, or the back of a router or modem. The wires inside of the Cat5 cable twist around each other throughout, but they straighten out one-half inch from the connector to reduce interfereyes nce. In the event that a device emitting high levels of radio frequency (RF) waves is near the cable, a shielded Cat5 cable is the best choice.
Why Is CAT5 Preferred?
The Electronic Industries Association (EIA) and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) set standards for network cables based upon their overall performance. Cat5 is the most popular "twisted pair" cable in use today because it allows data to be transferred over long distances with little interference or loss of data. Cat5 supports internet speeds of up to 100 Mbps (commonly called fast internet), which closely coincides with the maximum coaxial cable-based internet speeds supported in households. These cables can carry the fast internet speeds up to a distance of about 325 feet before data loss occurs. However, while there are four twisted pairs of wires inside the Cat5 cable sheath, fast internet speeds only utilize two.
In recent years, the EIA and TIA have specified the use of Cat5 enhanced cable, or Cat5e. This specification allows devices to utilize all four of the twisted wires in order to provide internet speeds up to 1000 Mbps (known as gigabit Ethernet). While speeds upward of 100 Mbps are not typically available in consumer households, they are available commercially within certain industries. Cat5e technology is backward compatible with ordinary Cat5 devices, as well.
Types of Cable Sheathing
The plastic coating on most Cat5 cable is made of PVC, which is common in many households and commercial settings. However, because the fumes created by burning or hot PVC are toxic, many local fire codes prohibit PVC-coated cables in air handling spaces. In this case, plenum rated cables are the better choice. The word "plenum" refers to the construction term used to define the air handling space in a building, and a plenum rated cable is specialized for use in these locations. In a plenum-rated cable, he PVC or Teflon sheath has a coat of flame-retardant and smoke-reducing material. These are much more expensive than traditional Cat5 cables and are not used in home networking scenarios except where required by law.
In outdoor applications, such as in a situation in which it is necessary to bury a cable under the ground or run it long distances through the air to provide internet service to a building or facility, there are aerial duct, direct burial, outdoor, and even armored cables available. These provide more protection against the elements, and prevent water or even debris from entering the cable and causing interference. They are also resistant to corrosion, so these can remain in place for many years.
Solid vs. Stranded
Cat5 cable comes in two varieties known as solid and stranded. Most homes utilize stranded Cat5 cable because it is more pliable than its solid counterpart is and it threads through walls and under baseboards, even around sharp corners, without fear of breaking the wires inside the sheath. Instead of one thick, heavy-gauge copper wire, the stranded cable contains thin filaments of copper that twist together. However, stranded Cat5 cable is only advantageous for very short distances. They cost less than solid cables, too, making them the cable of choice for most home service providers.
On the other hand, a solid Cat5 cable contains a solid metal copper wire that is more rigid than a stranded wire. It is resistant to bending, but it can break if it bends too far. The most common application for solid Cat5 cable is inside conduit and walls since there is generally very little need for flexibility. It is important to remember that each type of cable requires a specific type of RJ45 connector, too. While there are some connectors that are compatible with both, these can be expensive and difficult to find.
How to Purchase Bulk Cat5 Cable
While Cat5 cable is an industry standard, there are many factors that must be considered when purchasing it. First, it is important to consider the application in which the cable is used. This will help in determining whether solid or stranded cable is the best choice. For the most part, remember that stranded cable is best for shorter connections, such as those between a computer and a modem. Solid cable, on the other hand, is the better option for connecting the main source or the data to a modem or series of modems, and since it offers little flexibility and a thicker wire, it can carry data for a longer distance. Solid cable is also the go-to choice for bringing a network into a building while it is still under construction.
The next step involves determining the location of the cable. For instance, when running a connection from the street to a home, it is often best to use an outdoor-rated cable that will stand up well to the elements. For indoor connections, a traditional PVC-sheathed cable is preferred except for in cases when the cable must travel through the building's air-handling space.
Next, consider the amount of potential RF interference. If there is significant potential for RF interference, then shielded cable is the best option. Though it is more expensive because a coat of RF-reflective material lies between the wires themselves and the outer PVC or Teflon sheath, the investment is necessary for reducing interference that may cause data loss and significantly slower internet speeds.
Finally, determine the actual length of cable that is necessary to complete the job. It is economical to purchase Cat5 cable and connectors in bulk rather than purchasing individual lengths with connectors already attached, too. This is best for contractors and IT professionals who may be responsible for running internet connections through large facilities.
The Future of Cat5 Cable
Although Cat5 cable remains the popular choice for wired home and office networks, it is important to bear in mind that new data technologies are always in development. In fact, Cat 6 and even Cat 7 cables are already available for purchase, but because these are more expensive than Cat5 and they are capable of carrying speeds much faster than those available in most home networking applications are, most consumers do not use them. As time goes by and internet providers are able to deliver faster speeds to consumers through new technologies, Cat5 cable may become obsolete in favor of the newer Cat6 and Cat7.
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