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3 Different Internet Cable Types: The Major Cables Used in Networking

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3 Different Internet Cable Types: The Major Cables Used in Networking

Key Points

  • Cabling is the backbone of the internet and networks, serving as the primary means of data transmission between endpoints.
  • Coaxial cabling is one of the oldest forms of wiring and is commonly used with modems and external connections.
  • Fiber optic cabling offers greater speeds and symmetrical connections, making it ideal for high-speed internet and stable connections.
  • Twisted pair cabling is the most common type used for local area connections, offering decent performance and cost-effectiveness.

Have you ever been curious about the different internet cable types? The internet is a fairly nebulous concept when you get down to it. It is a snarl of cables and area networks interfacing with one another.

There are three primary cable types that see usage in computer networking. One of these cables you will see in every single network on the face of the earth, that is just how crucial it is.

So, if you’re new to the world of networking, then you’re in for a treat.

Why Cabling is Important for Networking?

Cabling is the backbone of the internet, and networks by and large. This extends to all the different internet cable types. While some may be more common than others, you’ll still find them in use with routers, modems, and other network equipment.

Simply put, without cables, there isn’t an internet. Without cables, you don’t have local area networks for your home and office. So, they serve a vital and crucial function in any network, acting as the primary means of data transmission between endpoints.

That doesn’t get into what the different internet cable types actually do.

Coaxial Cabling

Different Internet Cable Types
Coaxial cabling is the primary method of transmission for broadband terrestrial internet connections.

Interestingly, coaxial cabling is one of the oldest forms of wiring available for home and office networks. Coaxial cabling uses a copper core to send data. The actual composition of the cabling has a solid copper core, insulation, and usually some form of shielding around it.

Older readers may remember coaxial cabling in use for the likes of cable television. This is the same exact cable, but it is also one of the more reliable forms of internet cabling.

Unlike some of the different internet cable types, coaxial cabling generally only sees use with modems and other external means of connecting.

What Is It Used For?

Coaxial cables are used to actually transmit data across wide distances. Your home modem likely has a coaxial cable input, just as an example. Part of the benefit of using coaxial cabling is its overall resilience.

Often, at least depending on the location, you’ll see internet wiring hanging alongside telephone lines and power cables. While it is sturdy, its maximum throughput isn’t quite as broad as some other types of cable.

Where coaxial excels is in being a cheaper way to provide high-speed internet infrastructure. As this guide will explore later, it is one of the more cost-effective ways to provide internet access to a wider swath of users.

Maximum Throughput

Measuring the throughput of coaxial cabling is a bit difficult. As you’ll see with twisted pair cabling, there are numerous types of coaxial cables.

The fastest available is RG-6, which has a maximum throughput of 10 Gbps. However, this comes with the trade-off of delivering that speed at distances of 100 meters at the most. RG-11 has the same 10 Gbps throughput but can reach out to 200 meters.

Theoretically, any ISP could use coaxial to deliver speeds that rival what you’ll see with fiber optic internet. However, RG-6 and RG-11 are both quite cost-prohibitive. Coaxial cables use acoustic sound waves as the main method of transmission.

As such, the longer the cable, the more signal loss occurs.

Fiber Optic Cabling

Different Internet Cable Types
If you’re looking for a speedy internet connection, fiber optic cabling might be the answer.

Fiber optic cabling has been capturing the public zeitgeist for a little while now, thanks to the likes of AT&T and Google. What makes the cabling so unique is its overall construction. Rather than having a solid copper core at the heart of it, you have plastic or glass.

This isn’t a solid core either, this is divided into multiple little strands or fibers. The actual method of data transit for a fiber optic cable comes from the transmission of light itself. As such, you’ve got far greater speeds, but it carries its own certain issues.

With a strong enough transmitter you can transmit data over fiber quite a distance. However, the cabling itself is fragile and prone to breakage when exceeding a certain bend radius.

What Is It Used For?

Fiber optic cabling is employed in the same use cases as coaxial cabling. However, you can also certainly run fiber cabling in local area networks as well. The primary use for the average person will be fiber optic internet, however.

Fiber optic cabling generally has to be buried underground. It is nowhere near as resilient as coaxial cabling and is prone to breakages from the hazards weather might present. However, your maximum speeds can soar with fiber cables.

Fiber cabling’s largest draw, aside from its speed, is in the symmetry of its connection. Cabling only has so much throughput available at a given time. Given the structure of a fiber cable, you’re getting equal download and upload rates.

This translates to more stable connections and faster overall speeds. After all, your internet connection’s speed isn’t solely rated by its download rate, you’re also uploading data.

Maximum Throughput

The maximum throughput for fiber optic cabling is significantly higher than coaxial cables. The current maximum throughput for fiber optic cabling is 100 Gbps, ten times that of a coaxial cable. It can carry that signal a far greater distance than a coaxial cable as well.

However, the throughput of fiber cabling is dependent on a few different factors. Fiber cabling comes in two major variants, single and multimode. Single-mode fiber cabling is useful for sending data over longer distances. That said, it only allows a single connection at a time.

Multi-mode fiber cabling is more common, as it can carry multiple signals across its larger strands. However, you’re limited by the distance of transmission. As such, the throughput is subject to the same sort of changes and restrictions you’ll see with coaxial cabling.

Twisted Pair Cabling

Different Internet Cable Types
Ethernet cabling typically uses twisted pairs to transmit data from point to point.

The final type of cabling, and likely the most common in use today, is twisted pair cabling. Now, twisted pair cabling is typically only used for local connections. Its method of construction is only viable over certain distances.

While you’ll find variants with solid cores and shielding, most users will be familiar with unshielded twisted pair cables. These are your CAT5e, CAT6, and CAT7 cables, the backbone of any home or local office network.

Twisted pair cabling isn’t the most ideal form of data transit, but it is the most cost-effective. Research has yielded great results in increasing throughput, but the fact remains that an errant office chair can sever a connection with ease.

What Is It Used For?

Twisted pair cabling is used primarily for local area connections. It suffers from signal degradation at a faster rate than the likes of coaxial and fiber cabling. As such, it isn’t ideal for longer-distance connections.

However, given the proximity of most local area networks, it functions just fine. It has great throughput, given the medium at least. Fiber cabling is also used for local area connections but is considerably more fragile and prohibitively expensive.

Twisted pair cabling isn’t the most ideal choice, but is a decent compromise between performance and cost.

Maximum Throughput

Twisted pair cabling is divided into categories. You’ll more commonly see this shortened to something like a CAT5e cable. That said, CAT5e is rated for 1 Gbps, which is great for most local area connections.

However, given the rise in speeds on offer from ISPs, there are newer cables with better throughput. CAT6 and CAT6a aren’t the most recent cables available, but they do allow for speeds of up to 10 Gbps over a given length of wire.

CAT7a and CAT8 are the latest developments in the technology. You can expect to see 40 to 100 Gbps with a CAT7a cable. CAT8 is more stable at longer distances but also offers speeds between 25 to 40 Gbps.

Summary Table

Cable TypeUsageMaximum Throughput
Coaxial CablingUsed to transmit data across wide distances. Commonly used with modems and other external means of connecting.10 Gbps (RG-6 and RG-11)
Fiber Optic CablingUsed in the same cases as coaxial cabling but also in local area networks. Mostly used for fiber optic internet.100 Gbps
Twisted Pair CablingUsed primarily for local area connections. Commonly used in home or local office networks.1 Gbps (CAT5e), 10 Gbps (CAT6 and CAT6a), 40 to 100 Gbps (CAT7a), 25 to 40 Gbps (CAT8)

Frequently Asked Questions

Are telephone lines still in use for internet connections?

Yes, but they’ve grown increasingly rare in larger cities. You’ll typically find DSL and dial-up access in more rural areas of the United States.

What is the best cable for internet access?

There really isn’t a best. You need to figure out your needs, what you can compromise on, and how much you’re willing to spend when looking at cabling infrastructure.

Why would you use fiber optic cabling in local area networks?

Fiber optic cabling has a massive advantage in throughput. Provided you’re able to protect the cabling it should make local data transmission and retrieval exceptionally fast.

Do routers come with coaxial or fiber optic inputs?

Typically, no, unless it is a combination router. Standalone wireless routers will typically have ethernet ports rated to a certain speed on the device.

Do wireless networks still need cabling?

Absolutely, something has to carry the signal from the modem to the wireless router for you to receive it in the first place.

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