Ethernet Cable Options: A Guide to Optimal Connectivity in New Zealand
Ethernet cables, also known as network leads, patch cords, twisted pair, or simply "those blue cables," are the unsung heroes in the realm of your network's performance. Regardless of how technologically advanced your router or switches are, it's the ethernet cables that carry the lifeblood of data throughout your system. The task of picking out the right cable can be overwhelming due to the myriad options and their associated costs. Choosing incorrectly can impact not only your network's potential performance but also your wallet.
The spectrum of ethernet cables is broad, encompassing everything from Cat5e to Cat6, and materials ranging from 100% copper to Copper Clad Aluminium (PSA: Avoid the latter. Want to know why? READ MORE...). But how can you navigate these options and select the best cable for your needs? Let's explore the various cables available in New Zealand and their impact on your network, as well as dissect why pricier materials might be worth your investment.
Understanding Network Speed
We start with the necessary specifications for your cables, which directly affect how fast your network performs when transferring data. Let's not get started on the NBN, but if you have horrendous network speeds, no matter how much the cable costs, it will not get you up to maximum velocity. As Ethernet cables run only as fast as the port allows them, you will not see any performance difference if the capacity of your internet connection is a bottom dweller. So Cat6a Ethernet cables, Cat5e or Cat6? And you may notice that some are more expensive. So what does that mean? The names are an indication of the data transfer speed that the cable is rated for, with the lower the number the slower transfer.
The other differences in patch cables are the flexibility, what the outside jacket is made of and the type of ends or connectors - which are most commonly RJ45 - shielded, unshielded, boots, no boots...
The Cat5e Ethernet Cable
Once the go-to standard, Cat5e Ethernet cables are still a prevalent choice in New Zealand. They support speeds up to 1000 Mbps, aligning with the Gigabit speeds of newer routers and switches. They are designed with thinner wires compared to their Cat6 counterparts, offering more flexibility. Cat5e Ethernet cables are often the most affordable choice and can suit many applications. However, their lack of shielding and limited bandwidth of 100MHz makes them less ideal for data-heavy situations like running multiple IP voice lines, enterprise web hosting, file sharing, or Local Area Network (LAN) connectivity.
The Cat6 Ethernet Cable
A notch above Cat5e, Cat6 Ethernet cables boast greater resistance to crosstalk and system noise, ensuring more dependable performance. Despite offering the same Gigabit speed as Cat5e, the thicker wires in Cat6 cables allow a much higher bandwidth, reaching up to 250MHz. But this increased thickness reduces flexibility and, because of the extra copper, raises the cost. Cat6 Ethernet cables are ideal for data-heavy environments and their robust construction makes them well-suited for commercial settings with heavy traffic or for installations within walls or ceilings where they need to resist crimping and breaks
The Cat6a Ethernet Cable
The 'a' in Cat6a signifies 'augmented,' translating to greater speeds, bandwidth, and a shielded design for enhanced data integrity. Capable of transmitting data at 10 Gigabit speeds with a bandwidth of 500MHz, Cat6a Ethernet cables outpace Cat6 cables by tenfold in speed and double in bandwidth. The additional shielding is a standard feature, not an option, providing improved performance and data integrity.
As the most costly of the three options, Cat6a Ethernet cables are best suited for networks requiring top-tier performance, perfectly matching the speed of the latest 10 Gigabit routers, switches, and other hardware in New Zealand.
While Cat7 cables are also an option, they're less common in typical network setups. Capable of impressive speeds of 100 Gbps over short distances and 10 Gbps at longer ranges, they necessitate a different connection type than Cat5 or Cat6 cables. Cat7 cabling includes twisted pair shielding and a layer of shielding around the entire cable, which must be grounded. Consequently, Cat7 cables are typically reserved for data centres or large-scale enterprise networks.
The process of finding the right cable for your specific needs starts with understanding the type of cable required. Cat5e Ethernet cables offer an excellent balance between performance and cost for most situations, especially for residential applications. However, for those requiring increased bandwidth and higher speeds, Cat6a or Cat6 Ethernet cables can provide the necessary data transmission.
Once you've determined the cable type you need, the next step is to source cables with 100% pure copper wires to ensure you consistently achieve the performance you need. While the initial savings with Copper Clad Aluminium may seem tempting, the saying "you get what you pay for" rings true in this case. Stick with 100% copper. Low-quality cables can degrade over time, potentially damage other equipment, or even pose a fire risk.