While much of the world today has gone wireless, wires are still at the root of most things related to technology today. From charging our phones and laptops to connecting directly to the internet, cables are necessary for keeping in touch with the digital world. And staying in touch is becoming more necessary every day as larger sections of the job market are moving to online spaces.
Whether we know it or not, just about all of us rely on ethernet cables or fiber optic cables to live our modern online lives. Most of us have probably heard these terms before, perhaps on a television ad, but aren’t necessarily aware of what they are, what they do, how they differ, or why they matter. So for those of you unfamiliar with the more technical end of how the modern world operates, here’s some cursory information.
If you’ve ever come across a thick, blue, orange, or yellow cable with a funny looking end with a clip, you were probably looking at some sort of ethernet cable. These cables are quite common, though they’re often hiding behind computers and routers, so you might not see them all the time. Ethernet cables are essentially network cables, in that they connect a device or multiple devices to a local network (usually an internet router). And while all ethernet cables perform the same basic function, there are some variations, or categories:
As you might have guessed, the “Cat” here is short for “Category.” Cat5 cables are sort of like the classic ethernet cable. They’ve been around since the 1990s, right at the start of the Internet revolution. These cables have remained a staple of networks due to their high durability (10 years if maintained well) and performance (100 MHz–essentially its processing power).
The “e” in this category stands for “enhanced,” meaning the cat5e cable is just a spruced up version of the cat5 cable. In 2001 these cables were introduced to keep up with exponentially improving network speeds. What makes this version enhanced, then, is its speed. Cat5e cables can handle up to 1000 Mbps gigabit speeds. There is also less interference between cables here, known as “crosstalk,” making them more efficient.
The next step up from these categories are cat6 ethernet cables. The performance of these cables are 500 MHz, making them superior to both cat5 and cat5e cables. They can be more difficult to install and maintain than previous iterations of ethernet cable, however, and they are of course more expensive due to their better performance.
Fiber Optic Cables
Ethernet cables aren’t the only player in the game when it comes to networks, however. Whereas ethernet cables are made of copper, fiber optic cables consist of optically pure glass that is very thin. Aside from the difference in material of these cables, the biggest separating factor is the way in which signals are sent through these materials. In ethernet cables, signals are sent electrically, while in fiber optic cables, they are sent via light. The lack of electricity makes fiber optic cables less prone to interference, and also much safer in high voltage scenarios. These cables are also considered to be more secure since data is more difficult to decipher when sent via light transmission than it is via electrical current. Additionally, fiber optic cables are faster and have higher bandwidth capacity than copper ethernet cables.
From all this information, one might infer that fiber optic cables cost more per length than ethernet cables. This is true. Fiber optic cables aren’t by default superior to ethernet cables, either. Rather, it’s key that a business understands its networking needs before deciding which types of cables to apply. For larger information technology companies where huge amounts of data are being sent and received over long distances, fiber optic cables are probably necessary. For smaller companies that simply need a good Internet connection, standard ethernet cables should do just fine.
Even if you still don’t fully understand some of the technical jargon and numbers presented here, you should at least have a better understanding of the basics behind these types of cables we use every day without evening knowing it.
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