A Guide to Data Cables
January 22, 2019

In the early days of computing, connections between the computer itself and terminals, printers and so forth generally used coaxial cable. The drawback of this was that it was bulky and expensive. By the 1980s the move to twisted pair cabling was well under way. This was thinner, cheaper and made it easier to construct a structured cabling system with patch panels, allowing you to easily move devices around. It also allowed computers and phones to share the same cabling.

Twisted pair cabling, using the CAT 5 or later standards is still commonly used today. It’s made up of four twisted pairs of cable protected by a thicker outer sheath of plastic. It has evolved to allow power over Ethernet, so that devices can be run with just a single connection. There are variations but CAT 5 and CAT 6 remain the most common, allowing network speeds of up to a gigabit over short distances of up to 100 metres. These standards require all eight pins of the network plug to be connected. Variations of twisted pair cabling include shielded cables to reduce interference or allow operation in noisy electrical environments.

Fibre Optics

The greatest change in recent times has been a move towards fibre optic cables. These permit much faster data speeds. However, they require specialist termination and careful installation as they can’t negotiate tight corners. Fibre cables most commonly use glass as this gives the best transmission speeds, although plastic fibres may be used in some circumstances. In addition to speed, fibre has the advantage of being immune to interference and electrical noise.

If you are updating your network or moving to a new office, a specialist data cable installer such as MK Electrics can advise on the best solution to meet your needs and we can provide a full installation service, if required.