The Ethernet Cable – Composition and Function

A computer network is a combination of two layers. On the one hand, there is the physical link which is referred to as hardware, and on the other, you have the data or logical layer referred to as software. The electronic signals travel through the physical or hardware layers which serves as their path through the computer network. In the data or logical layer, the protocols or sets of rules governing the way machines communicate with one another in a network is set by the Ethernet standards. The Ethernet cable is therefore an essential component in a computer network’s physical (hardware) layer.

Ethernet Standards

The hardware, or physical layer, continues to evolve as a result of the new improvements that are continually being developed for those Ethernet standards. Coaxial cables were once the norm in the older Ethernet set-ups whereas now, fiber optic or twisted pair cables have become the standard. As these are the types of cables that are the most commonly used now, the Ethernet cable is the terminology that is used to describe these newer fiber optic or twisted pair cables. These twisted pair cables are more commonly referred to as Category 5 or Cat 5 cables.

Cat 5 Cable Structure

The Cat 5 cable contains 8 wires grouped in four pairs and made from 24-gauge copper inside the covering or jacket. The name “twisted pair” is derived from the fact that each pair of those wires are twisted around one another while there are usually three twists made per inch of wire being used in the Ethernet cable. This helps to reduce the amount of external source signal interference that is caused by fluorescent light bulbs or radio signal transmissions. It also helps to reduce the crosstalk that results from other wiring pairs. At each end of the cable, there is usually an 8-Position/8-contact connector referred to as an 8P8C connector.

Function of a Cat 5 Cable

A Cat 5 Ethernet cable is classified as being a “crossover” or “straight-through” cable. Although the crossover set-up is typically used for connecting one computer with a number of others in a network, the cable sockets can be set up for an internally-based crossover or for receiving a straight-through type of cable. On a closing note, the newer hub, router, and switch models currently available on the market today are capable of automatically changing between a crossover and straight-through set-up. This has eliminated the need for using two separate Cat 5 cables.