How Do I Know What Kind Of Ethernet Cable I Need?

Ethernet cables are used to establish local area networks in residential and commercial buildings. Ethernet network cables can also be used individually to create connections between electronic devices without creating a structured LAN network. For example, if you need to connect your laptop to the WiFi router through a wire, you do not need an entire network of switches and hubs. All you need is 1000ft ethernet cables such as a Cat5e or a Cat6 that you can connect to your laptop on the one end and your router on the other.

In addition to the Cat5e and 6, there is another ethernet cable called Cat6a that is ideal for both residential and commercial applications. Moreover, all of these ethernet cables have multiple variants as well. If you need an ethernet cable, you will need to understand all of them. Their types, specifications, use cost, and installation procedures.

How do you know which type of cable you need is another question that new installers and DIYers face all the time? Well, the answer is simple. It depends on the type of applications you will use it for. For example, if you need a cable for indoor horizontal runs in a residential building, you need a Cat5e plenum. And for indoor vertical runs in commercial networks, either a Cat6 or a Cat6a riser is ideal. Learn more about how to choose and what makes cable ideal in this article. Be sure to read till the end. Let’s begin.


What is an Ethernet Cable?

Ethernet is the technology that lets you share data across multiple devices at the same time in a local area network. The hardware that is used to transfer data is ethernet cables. There are three types of Ethernet Network cables such as optical fiber cables, twisted-pair copper cables, and coaxial cables. In this blog, we will discuss how you can find the type of ethernet cables that you need.


Types of Ethernet Cables

Well before you can tell which ethernet cable to use, you need to know the types of ethernet cables out there. Their specs, cost, etc. The cables we are discussing today are the Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, and their many types. Once we discuss the different types of ethernet cables and their variants, we will take a look at the different ways through which you know which cable to use.


Cat5e Cable:

Cat5e is the most sought-after ethernet cable 1000ft for residential and average capacity commercial networks. These cables feature eight 24 AWG wires that are twisted in pairs. The twists of the conductor wires are essential for better resistance against electromagnetic interference.

The cable is produced in a multitude of variants that are defined by the type of cable jacket, conductor, nature of the conductor, and whether it is shielded or not. Depending on the specifications of the cable, Cat5e can cost anywhere between $150 and $230.



Plenum-rated is a type of the Cat5e. This variant is defined by its communications multipurpose plenum-rated jacket. The cable with this jacket is originally designed for indoor horizontal installations. But the jacket is quite durable which makes the cable ideal for use in outdoor settings as well.



Riser, as the name implies is the Cat5e cable that is installed in indoor vertically rising spaces. It is installed within walls, between floors, and in elevator shafts. The cable is designed to not burn in vertical installations. It prevents the spread of fire from one floor to another.


Solid Copper:

Solid copper is the nature of the conductor. It means that the cable conductors are made from one single piece of metal. These kinds of conductors are a little stiffer than their counterparts which are called stranded cables. Solid Cat5e cables are used in outdoor and long-distance transmissions which ensure better signal integrity and lower EMI.



Like the solid/stranded conductor, the shielding is also related to the nature of the conductor. It is literally a shielding around the cable conductors that are made from either a metal foil or a wire mesh. In some cables, both types of shielding are integrated simultaneously. Cat5e cables with shielded conductors are much better at keeping minimum EMI and maximum signal integrity.


Cat6 Cable:

Cat6 or category 6 is the ethernet cable with 23 AWG conductors twisted in pairs. The conductors are 8 in number and the individual pairs are separated using a wire separator or a spline. The Cat6 cable also features more twists in the conductor pairs as compared to the Cat5e cable.



A category 6 cable made with the plenum jacket is known as a Cat6 Plenum. The jacket of the cable is known for its best safety features in the industry. Made from LSZH materials, it neither burns nor emits toxic smoke in any fire event.



Riser cable needs to be the solution for indoor vertical runs. Although it does not catch a flame in fire events, it can, however, emit toxic smoke in case it burns. The Riser-rated Cat6 cable is safe enough to be run in outdoor settings as well.


Solid/Stranded Copper:

Cat6 cable is produced in bare copper and copper-clad aluminum conductors. But the CCA conductor is rather substandard for the job. It can overheat easily which increases the chances of a fire hazard. CCA conductors don’t support PoE applications either. These are the reasons we are considering only the Cat6 bare copper cable.

Now note that both Cat6 solid copper and stranded copper are ideal cables. They offer a data transfer at speeds of up to 1 GBit/s over 100 meters with a 550 MHz bandwidth. But the Cat6 stranded copper cable is easier to install indoors because of its flexibility and easy-to-install features.

Similarly, the Cat6 solid cable is best for outdoors. It can also be used indoors but installing it is a bit tricky. Although once installed indoors, the Cat6 solid cable will perform much better than the Cat6 stranded.



Shielding in the Cat6 cable makes it even better performing. With the tightly twisted and carefully separated conductor pairs of the cable get their performance bolstered by the integration of foil or mesh shielding.

The cable comes with the option of choosing the shielded or the unshielded cable. For some people, the Shielded Cable works much better but for others, the unshielded Cat6 suffices.

We will discuss in the coming parts, when a shielded cable is required and when you can make do with an unshielded cable.


Cat6a Cable:

The cat6a is the augmented version of the Category 6 ethernet cable. With even more tightly twisted pairs of conductors than the Cat5e and Cat6. The cable is produced only with pure copper conductors because there is simply no compromise on the quality of this cable.

The Cat6a cable is therefore made only with bare copper conductors and only plenum and riser-rated jackets. This ensures the optimum quality of the cable while also keeping the price within an affordable range.

This cable has a 10 GBit/s data transfer rate over 100 meters with a 750 MHz bandwidth. These performance specifications mean that the cable can perform any ethernet application without much of a hassle.

Let's take a look at the cable specifications in detail.



Cat6a Plenum is one of the best ethernet twisted pair cables you can get right now. And you are getting it at an affordable price. Its plenum jacket, made from low smoke zero halogen material neither burns nor emits any toxic smoke. It is made from the best materials.

It can be easily installed indoors and outdoors. And the all-weather construction design of the cable jacket allows it to withstand extreme weather conditions.



The riser jacket of the Cat6a cable is designed for both indoor enclosed spaces and outdoors. Although not technically designed for the outdoors, it can be used because of its cutting-edge construction.


Solid Copper:

The Cat6a cable made from solid copper cable is a bit harder to install as compared to its stranded counterpart but it can surely perform better. Even in long-distance transmissions, the solid cable can keep much better signal integrity.



Shielded Cat6a is a great choice for crowded networks. On the other hand, if a network is not as crowded, you do not necessarily need the shielded variant of the cable. The built-in features of the cable to mitigate EMI and other kinds of crosstalk are fairly enough to keep the signal transmission neat.

But also note that the Cat6a cable is usually installed in networks where there are often quite a number of other cables. In such scenarios, the shielded cable becomes a necessity.


How to Tell Which Cable you Need?

Now that you know the types and specifications of 1000ft ethernet cables you can get, let’s find out how to tell the type of ethernet cable you need.

Well, there is no hard and fast rule to tell which ethernet cable you need. Your best bet can be based on the type of network you run, the performance specifications you need, and your budget. Depending on these factors you will choose a cable that best suits your networking needs. Some people find out the best cable for their unique requirements by looking at the different options available on the market. You can also do that by looking at the cables described above. The cable you need is most likely the one mentioned above. Because that list covers cables from low to moderate to high capacity networking requirements.

Now if you still do not know which ethernet cable you need, let’s proceed to the next parts of the blog.


Cable Performance:

To put it simply, if you need a cable with up to a gigabit or below data transfer speed, you will need the Cat5e ethernet cable. For at least a gigabit data transfer speed, you will need the Cat6. And for 10 Gigabit speeds, get the Cat6a cable.

These are the simple performance specifications of the different ethernet cables 1000ft available on the market. If you want to dive deeply into understanding other factors of ethernet cables that count as performance, read about STP vs UTP Cables and the characteristics of a good ethernet cable.


Type of Installation:

The type of installation is important. Where are you running the cables and for what purpose? Depending on the answer, you will choose any one of the cables mentioned above.

But generally, plenum cables are used for indoor horizontal runs and the Riser cables are used for installations in indoor vertical runs. The type of category will depend on the performance requirements. You can use both plenum and riser cables outdoors. But most people prefer running the riser cables outdoors because it is much cheaper than the plenum.


Ethernet Cable Category:

A simple way to find out the kind of ethernet cable you need is to find out the right cable category. As you would have noticed from the very beginning of this article, we referred to twisted-pair ethernet cables as Category cables. These categories are standardized by IEEE which dictates the performance standards of each cable and therefore its use.

So by only finding out the category, you can know which cable you need. Note that all ethernet cable categories have several variants in them. So you will still have to find out the right category of ethernet cable.



The cost of the ethernet cable is a major factor that will determine which ethernet cable you get. One important thing we want to share here is the fact that not all expensive cables are always good. You need to buy the right cable for your requirements regardless of its price unless it is beyond your budget.

For example, if an unshielded cable is ideal for you, getting an expensive shielded cable will not make much of a difference. So, get the right cable.