How to Identify Ethernet Cable Type?

How to identify ethernet cable type

Whether you are an expert in ethernet cables or not, you probably take your time to tell the difference between different types of cables. When you need to connect your device or terminate it into connectors, you might also need to know which type of ethernet cable you have. But if you are unsure, keep reading this article to find out how to identify the type of ethernet cable you have. 

Also Read: Types of Networking Cables Used in Your Computer Connection

First, to be able to identify the type of ethernet cable, a user needs to know the various types. In pure networking terms, the types of ethernet network cables are called categories. There are several categories of these networking cables but the most common ones are Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6a cables.

The key to identifying ethernet cables is the ability to read the jacket inscriptions. Later in the article, you will learn how to read the text written on the cable jackets.

“Cat” is short for “Category”. The ‘e’ in cat5e refers to ‘enhanced’ and ‘a’ in cat6a refers to ‘augmented’. What this means is that within one category of ethernet cables, there can be other ‘enhanced’ or ‘augmented’ variants.

As mentioned earlier, the most common categories of Ethernet network cables are cat5e, cat6, and cat6a. You will find these cables in almost all household and business networking applications. Because of the range of specifications, these cables are flexible and cater to almost all user requirements.

Let’s discuss these categories and how to identify them in detail.

How to read the ethernet cable jacket

Before reading the cable jacket let’s think for a moment, about what you are trying to know: you are trying to know which category of ethernet cable it is. Is it shielded or unshielded? Is the conductor pure copper or copper-clad aluminum? Which standards does it comply with? The size of the conductors (AWG), etc.

Essentially, you will be looking for the following specifications:

Category: The primary specification that defines an Ethernet network cable is its category. It is written on the cable jacket as Cat5e or Cat6a. The ‘Cat’ in these terms is short for the category, which refers to the specifications it supports.

For instance, if your cable jacket says “Cat6,” it means that the cable can support specifications standardized under the 6th category of Ethernet cables. The specifications for Ethernet cable categories are standardized by the Telecommunication Industry Association (TIA). So whenever you buy TIA-certified cables, you can be sure that those cables comply with the industry standards for performance and safety. 
To learn more about ethernet cable categories, read this simple guide to ethernet cables.

STP or UTP

If the description on the jacket says ‘STP’, it means the conductors are shielded and twisted in pairs which will ensure lesser crosstalk and lower attenuation. If the jacket says, ‘UTP’, it means that the conductors are twisted but not shielded. UTP cables entertain relatively more crosstalk and attenuation than STP cables.

Standards/ certifications

Two certifications are important to ensure an ethernet cable is up to the safety and performance standards of the market: UL (underwriters laboratories) and EIA/TIA. If the cable jacket mentions ‘UL-listed’ and ‘EIA/TIA’, it means that it has undergone rigorous testing to ensure its compliance with legal standards.

AWG / Conductor size

 American wire gauge (AWG) refers to the size of each conductor wire. For example, the AWG of Cat5e is 24. If you are trying to identify the cable for connecting it with your device, AWG is not a necessary specification to identify the cable, because the connector will be already connected to the cable.

Cat5e cables

If your cable jacket reads ‘Cat5e’, it means that it is the enhanced variant of the 5th category of ethernet network cables. It supports a data transfer rate of up to 1Gbps over a distance of 50 meters with a bandwidth capacity of 350MHz.

Cat6 cables

Cat6 cables are the 6th category of ethernet cables and they have a bandwidth capacity of up to 550 MHz. They are high-performance cables that can transmit data at up to 10Gbps over a run length of 50 meters.

Cat6A cables

Cat6A cables are the augmented 6th category cables. All specifications of these cables are more advanced than their previous categories. The data transfer rate of these cables is up to 10Gbps over a run length of 100 meters and the bandwidth capacity is up to 750 MHz.

These cables are available in both shielded and unshielded versions. If you see Cat6a written on a cable, you can expect it to have the aforementioned specifications.

Pro-tip: You can find out if your cable conductor is pure copper or copper-clad aluminum by cutting a small piece of the cable. The pure copper conductor looks gold-ish to the core and the copper-clad aluminum will look silver-ish at its core.

Conclusion

Identifying the type of an Ethernet network cable requires an understanding of the specifications of different ethernet cables and you also need to know different types of ethernet cables beforehand. 

In conclusion, what you should be looking for are the aforementioned specifications written on the jacket of the ethernet cable, namely, STP/UTP, Category, certifications, conductor type, and conductor size.

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Specification Cat5e Cat6 Cat6a
Cable Jacket Plenum, Riser & PVC Plenum, Riser & PVC Plenum & Riser
Wire Gauge 24-AWG 23-AWG 23-AWG Highly Twisted
Frequencies 350 MHZ 550 MHZ 750 MHZ
Installation Temp 0°C to 60°C 0°C to 60°C 0°C to 60°C
Pairs 4 Twisted Pairs 4 Twisted Pairs 4 Twisted Pairs
Package Easy Pull Box Easy Pull Box Wood Spool
Colors Black, Blue, White, Red, Green, Yellow Black, Blue, White, Red, Green, Yellow Black, Blue, White, Red, Green, Yellow
Standard Compliance ETL, FCC, CE, CSA, ISO/IES, RoHS FCC, CE, CSA, ISO/IES, RoHS ETL, FCC, CE, CSA, ISO/IES, RoHS

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