What Is an Ethernet Cable? – Updated, 2022

It is likely that you have heard of Ethernet cables when discussing Internet connections, but you might not know what they are, what they do, and why they are useful. 

Ethernet cables connect your electronic device (computer, tablet, gaming console, etc.) to a network, allowing you to access the internet and interact with shared resources on the network. Consider it as connecting manually to the network rather than wirelessly to get Wi-Fi on your device. 

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It is because wireless connections are not infallible that Ethernet cables are used. Some interfering factors can cause Wi-Fi to go down or become damaged. This could be due to the distance between you and the network, an interference object such as a brick wall or electrical wiring, even something interfering with the connection speed such as a man in the middle attack etc.   

If there is no internal problem with the cable’s wiring, the Ethernet cable gives you the guarantee of being connected to the network. Being directly connected gives everyone a faster and more reliable experience, so say for example you are playing an FPS game on your custom-built gaming pc the few seconds it takes to see someone is crucial. This is largely down to your ping that is generally lower being connected via Ethernet as opposed to a Wi-Fi connection.

When Wi-Fi is down, an Ethernet also serves as a useful backup option for testing. Depending on the network, you may be able to connect wirelessly or via Ethernet cable. A good tip would be to always plug into the test socket also, basically a more direct, faster connection again. If you want access to the router on other networks, like local area networks (LAN), you’ll need this cable. 

Ethernet is a widely recognized standard for internet technology, and this is one of its great advantages. It can be used with any piece of hardware, as it is supported by all manufacturers of network equipment.    

Another great feature is that Ethernet cables are fairly long, so you will never run out of room when it comes to creating a gaming or business network setup. Between 0 and 100 meters in length, you are not going to see any loss in data. With the option of using a longer Ethernet extension lead, still bringing speeds faster than that of any Wi-Fi connection.

This is useful, given that most safety standards for cables set 100 meters as the maximum permitted length for any kind of network cable. You should also know that there are different types of Ethernet cables that exist, all of them will fit into the Ethernet port, yet each one is designed to support different network standards and speeds.   

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Different types of Ethernet cable

Category 5 (Cat5), supports 10-100 Mbps, making it older (and slower) than the other Ethernet cables. This cabling can be found with network systems that have been around for a while. 

The Category 5 enhanced (Cat5e) cable supports 1000 Mbps and reduces intra-wire interference within the cable. The fastest Ethernet cable you can buy is Category 6 (Cat6), which is capable of handling speeds up to 10 Gigabits. You don’t need Cat6 for your computer unless you have a high-power network that needs this kind of speed on a daily basis. 

Cat5/Cat5e cables are the standard cables used by most network systems and home users. However, there are other categories as well! In addition, there is the augmented Category 6 (Cat6a), which provides twice as much bandwidth as Cat6 and will allow data transmission rates to reach 10 gigabits per second.   

Want to take it a step further? Category 7, a fully shielded cable, offers the same speeds as Cat6 but provides even greater bandwidth. As far as design goes, they are the thickest and most difficult to build of all categories. For both Cat6a and Cat7, grounding is necessary to prevent performance losses that would make them no better than Cat6. 

No matter which Ethernet cable you choose for your PC or Laptop, you must ensure that your network cards and router are compatible with it. In order for the cable to function properly, it must integrate with all the other elements of the system.

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