- Coaxial cabling is still widely used by internet service providers for broadband internet access.
- Ethernet cabling is commonly used in homes and offices with routers or switches.
- Coaxial cabling is more durable and weather-resistant, while Ethernet cabling is more fragile.
- Ethernet cabling has higher throughput rates compared to coaxial cabling.
- Coaxial cabling has less signal loss over distance compared to Ethernet cabling.
Coaxial vs. Ethernet cable: which one should you use? Computer networking is rife with differing standards, especially regarding cabling. Cabling itself is the backbone of the modern computer network, even when looking at antiquated standards. Coaxial cabling is still very much the driving force behind broadband internet access and internet service providers across the world still use the older standard.
Ethernet cabling — or, more aptly, CAT5 and above — serves in every home and office with a router or switch. It can be a bit confusing as to where you should deploy each cable, but that’s to be expected. Today’s guide will be taking a closer look at network cabling standards and their capabilities.
Coaxial vs. Ethernet Cable: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Coaxial Cable||Ethernet Cable|
|Number of Conductors Per Cable||Two||Eight|
|Throughput||10 Mbps||CAT7 cables can reach up to 100 Gbps over short-range deployment|
|Shielding||Rather versatile, generally quite durable and weather-resistant||Not as robust, but sufficient for indoor use|
|Use Case||Running cabling to homes from an internet service provider||Connecting devices within a local area network|
|Signal Loss Over Distance||Occurs past 100 yards, repeaters, and distribution terminals are deployed for longer runs||Fairly pronounced|
|Deployment||Typically found for ISP cabling, ethernet-capable||Usually intended for local area networks|
While you can use coaxial cabling for ethernet uses, that isn’t its ideal deployment these days.
Coaxial vs. Ethernet Cable: What’s the Difference?
The overall use case for both cabling standards is going to be quite different. In the past, you could realistically use coaxial cabling for Ethernet purposes. However, given the total bandwidth of the transmission medium, you’re doing yourself a massive disservice.
Instead, where coaxial shines is in areas where you need a durable cable. It comes in a variety of different jackets, which are notably harder to damage. You can still exceed the bend radius or compromise the integrity of the cable.
Ethernet cabling is more fragile, even when looking at the more durable and expensive plenum shielding options. It works well in buildings, but even then it can be an unsuitable fit for some uses. You’ll find that specialty cabling, which is usually quite expensive, is deployed when running lines above ceiling tiles and the like. Ethernet cabling also has fewer options for shielding, with coatings being more intended to reduce the risk of fire and electromagnetic interference.
This is another area of consideration where you can see some major differences. Typically speaking, coaxial cabling is a poor choice for Ethernet connectivity. The nominal output over 100 yards is roughly 10 Mbps, which is less than ideal for modern networking needs.
Contrast that to CAT6 and CAT7 cabling which reach well into the gigabits for data transfer. While copper itself has its inherent limitations as a medium, Ethernet cabling simply has better transfer rates. Now, throughput is less of a consideration when you consider the distances you’ll be running cabling.
Signal Loss Over Distance
Signal loss, or attenuation, as it is called, is a common occurrence with any transmission medium. Typically, you’ll see a degree of signal loss happen, as well, when splitting a signal into different termination points. Coaxial does far better over distance, at least when considering longer continuous runs of cabling.
Signal loss still occurs at around 100 yards, but it isn’t quite as substantial as other mediums. Ideally, if you’re looking for the best of the best when it comes to signal loss, then something like fiber would be the way to go.
Ethernet cabling isn’t intended for longer runs. You can do so, but you’re spending money at your own peril. This is evident with standards like CAT6 and CAT7, where the ideal length of cable is below 25 yards or so. You still maintain much stronger transfer rates at 100 yards compared to coaxial, but it is a massive reduction when looking at the cable standards as a whole.
Interference can greatly impact the overall quality of your data transfers. Coaxial cabling has had a far longer time to develop and experience different use cases. As such, you can expect far more robust cabling, especially when looking at outdoor runs and the like. Electromagnetic interference can still hinder how a coaxial run performs, but you have better options for cable jacketing.
Ethernet cabling will typically use a plastic sheath over the twisted pairs that comprise it. You can invest in sturdier cables, but the cost is far higher than that of a comparable run of coaxial. As such, you’ll want to stick with lower-cost cabling for your Ethernet purposes. The plastic sheath does fine in most cases with EMI, keeping crosstalk to a minimum.
However, the jacketing is more intended to keep harmful chemicals at bay in the event of a fire, rather than serving any functional purpose at crosstalk reduction. There are solid core alternatives to twisted pair cabling. That said, these are typically deployed for ceiling runs to keep EMI to a minimum. They are too expensive to see reasonably frequent use across an entire network.
Coaxial cabling’s day in local area networks has long come to a close. You can still use it as such, but you’ll need rather antiquated network interface cards and hardware to get the job done. Instead, its best area of deployment is for outdoor runs. It is a fairly sturdy cable, as previously stated, and does well whether suspended on telecom poles or buried underground.
Ethernet cabling is best served indoors, typically with a decent floor plan to accommodate whatever length of cabling you need. There are a variety of different cable types employed in campus network design, but the standard Ethernet cable works for its intended purpose just fine. If you were looking to employ cables to connect business or school campuses, you’d likely be looking at coaxial or fiber lines in the first place.
Coaxial vs. Ethernet Cable: 5 Must-Know Facts
- Coaxial is one of the oldest cabling standards still in use.
- Coaxial cabling is often used by broadband internet providers.
- Coaxial cabling isn’t suited for local area networks.
- Ethernet cabling is best used for indoor purposes.
- Ethernet cabling has existed in one form or another since the 1980s.
Coaxial vs. Ethernet Cable: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Choose?
There really isn’t a better choice when it comes to network cabling. You pick the right type of line for the job and go about your day as best you can. Coaxial cabling is a poor choice for local area networks but excels in deployments like metro, campus, and wide area networks. Signal loss isn’t as pronounced over 100-yard runs, so you can readily prep cables to carry modulated frequencies with ease.
Ethernet cabling will likely continue to be the standard for indoor network design for the foreseeable future. Fiber does boast stronger speeds and more relative stability when looking at signal attenuation. However, fiber is just too expensive to deploy miles and miles of cabling in a larger enterprise environment. As such, Ethernet and coaxial sort of rule the roost thanks to their relatively low cost and reliability.