When setting up internet-connected devices in our homes or offices, cabling is one thing we don’t pay much attention to, if at all. Yes, we ensure that we get one end of the cable into one device and the other into an access point, but beyond that, we rarely give cabling much thought.
Have you ever wondered how long your cable should be and whether its length affects your connection?
In this quick-and-simple guide, we’ll discuss various Ethernet cables, with a special focus on how the cable’s length affects your internet connection.
Let’s dive in:
Understanding Ethernet Cables (and Types)
Simply put, an ethernet cable is the most common type of network cable used to connect two or more devices sharing files and an internet connection.
Although nothing about Ethernet and how they function is confusing, deciding which ethernet type is suitable for your needs can be confusing.
Let’s demystify ethernet cable types and detail which ones are suitable for which operations.
When looking at ethernet cables, you will find them labeled cat followed by a number or a number and letter. The cat indicates category, while the number following it shows the specification version used by the cable.
A higher number in an ethernet cable mainly indicates the cable supports faster speeds and higher frequency expressed in megahertz. That enables the cables to support faster connections and higher bandwidths.
Let us briefly discuss ethernet category types.
NOTE: Since this is a quick starter guide, not a comprehensive ethernet guide, we will skip all ethernet categories and discuss the most common (Cat 5, Cat 5e, Cat 6, Cat 6a, and Cat 7)
1: Ethernet Cat 5
Cat5 ethernet cables, although at this point obsolete, allow network speed of up to 100 Mbps. They are rated at a frequency of 125 MHz and act as a replacement for ethernet cat 3. Unless you already have an existing ethernet cat 5, please do not use this type because it’s slow.
2: Ethernet Cat 5e
The next category is ethernet cat5e, which means enhanced ethernet cat5. Although there is no physical difference between Cat 5 and Cat 5e, the Cat 5e cable can reject unwanted signals between the communication networks.
Cat5e also supports faster speeds—125 Mbps—than its predecessor and comes at a low cost. Therefore, you may find the cat5e cable used regularly.
3: Ethernet Cat 6
The Cat 6 cable is a better and a modern improvement of the Cat 5 and Cat 5e. Cat6 cables are wound tightly and outfitted with a braided shielding that protects the twisted pair of wires inside the cable from electrical interference from outside sources that disrupt the normal flow of data in a cable (crosstalk).
Cat 6 cables also support higher speeds of up to 10Gbps to a length of 55m. However, the Cat 6 cable is expensive compared to its Cat 5 and Cat 5e counterparts.
4: Ethernet Cat 6a
The augmented version of Cat 6, Cat 6a, is an improvement of the Cat 6 cable.
This cable standard can support twice the maximum bandwidth of Cat 6 cables while maintaining higher transmissions over long distances.
Cat 6a Ethernet cables are more durable and less flexible than Cat 6 due to more robust shielding, which helps them prevent crosstalk better than Cat 6.
5: Ethernet Cat 7
By default, Cat 7 ethernet cables are a better version of the Cat 6 and Cat 6a cables because they support higher bandwidths and faster transmissions over long distances using the latest Ethernet technology.
The Cat 7 cables are capable of reaching up to 100Gbp at the range of 20m. The cables also have effective shielding, helping block noise and crosstalk in the communication channels. The Cat 7 cable uses a modified GigaGate45 connector that’s compatible with RJ45 Ethernet ports.
Although the Cat 7 cable is a much better choice and more capable than preceding ethernet cables, it can be challenging to acquire because of its use of the modified GigaGate45 connector, a proprietary technology.
NOTE: There are other ethernet cable categories, but we will not dive deep into that for now. You can use external resources to learn more about ethernet technology and its various uses.
Now that we have ethernet categories out of the way, let dive into the question:
Does the Length of An Ethernet Cable Matter?
The simple answer to that question is NO: The length of an ethernet cable does not significantly influence network speeds, especially with modern cables and networks!
However, that doesn’t mean you can connect one end of an Ethernet cable to one corner of the globe and the other to your device and expect it to work the same way as a connection connected directly to a router a stone throw away from you.
In simpler terms, there’s a limit to what the length of the cable can be. Although there is no defined limit to what the size of an ethernet cable can be, longer cables can cause some reduction in latency.
This reduction is mainly because of the distance a signal has to travel within the cable. The further the travel distance, the higher the chances of interferences occurring. That is very unlikely to notice, especially if you are comparing two cables together.
Until an ethernet cable reaches over 100m in length, the effects are hardly noticeable as most Ethernet cables can run over 100m with no issues. That will significantly depend on the type of Ethernet cable you are using and the maximum bandwidth supported.
For example, if you run a Cat 5 or Cat 5e cable for less than 100m, you will notice no speed change. However, if you increase the length to more than 100m, the speed can drop significantly to maybe 10-15Mbps from, say, 100Mbps.
To summarize, depending on your ethernet type, anything less than 100 to 110m in length will hardly affect your speeds. However, keep in mind that you will experience higher latency over large distances.
There’s no defined way of saying at what length an ethernet cable will experience problems.
Hence, when deciding which Ethernet cable to use, go with a modern option, and consider your budget and the network structure you’re using.
Thanks for reading—and have fun cabling your devices.