What Is a Twisted Pair?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A twisted pair is a set of two conductors tightly wrapped together in a series of twists to minimize interference and allow them to transmit a signal as clearly as possible. This wiring is useful for telecommunications equipment like phones and cable lines to prevent crosstalk and other issues that might interfere with the quality of the signal. There are a number of types of twisted pair wiring available for use in different applications, each with a rating to provide information about the kinds of settings where it can be used.

Cat 5 cable, a type of twisted pair cable.
Cat 5 cable, a type of twisted pair cable.

When two conductors run side by side, each generates its own electromagnetic field as energy moves through. Occasionally, artificial connections can develop between the wires, and may create crosstalk, where signals jump between wires. This can create a compounding effect over long distances. Twisting limits exposure to interference by continually switching which wire is exposed to a neighbor. Technicians do need to be careful with the wiring, as they could accidentally create a switched pair at the end, where two wires from two different pairs are joined together at a junction or connection box.

Cables use the concept of electromagnetic shielding to separate the wires from outside environments.
Cables use the concept of electromagnetic shielding to separate the wires from outside environments.

Manufacturers can introduce differing numbers of twists into the wire. More twists creates more of a canceling effect to limit interference, but also adds to the cost of the wire. The manufacturer needs to balance the needs of the applications where the wire will be used against the expenses associated with production. Typically multiple twisted pairs are run together in a single cable. The twist rate of each pair varies, as identical twisted pairs yoked together can start to interfere with each other.

The most basic twisted pair is unshielded, where individual conductors wrapped in basic sheaths are twisted around each other and bundled in the same cable. In shielded twisted pair wiring, the manufacturer wraps the pairs in foil and adds insulation. This limits communication between pairs, and may be recommended for things like high speed data transmission. Without shielding, interference could occur and might degrade the signal.

Ratings for twisted pair wiring are based on the number of twists and the type of insulation. High twist, high insulation wire is rated for demanding applications like high-speed Internet. Low levels of twist and low insulation are suitable primarily for voice-only applications. Customers like telecommunications companies can order custom cabling products for particular projects, and basic twisted pair wiring is available through hardware and electronics stores for hobbyists, contractors, and people performing home improvement projects.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I had a nightmare job once where we wired a stamping shop that had a lot of machinery with electric motors in it. The customer insisted on unshielded cable due to the cost difference.

After it was all installed, they kept having network problems. After a lot of expensive troubleshooting, they figured out that the high-frequency motors in the machines were causing interference and messing up the way the network performed. Just like I said it would.

He was not amused when he got the quote to redo it the way it should have been done in the first place. I never heard back. I wonder why?


@Horsebite - That's what I do. I've been getting all of my cable online for a long time. They seem to have the best prices, and it's a commodity item anyway. Not like copper wire from one place is better than copper wire from another.

The best part is that a lot of the online stores have free shipping if you order a lot at once. That way, it ends up right on your doorstep and doesn't cost you anything extra.


Where does everyone buy their cable these days? I had been going to the local large computer store, but I get the feeling they are gouging me because they are the only game in town. Maybe it's time to start looking online?


I do network cabling for a living and we use a ton of this kind of wire. It does an excellent job for wiring buildings full of computers and phones. The annoying part is connecting everything up when you're done, and keeping track of which wire is which until everything is hooked up and labeled.

I remember when the design center I worked in years ago was rewired when network speeds went from 10 MBPS to 100 MBPS, and for the whole building the quote was almost eight million dollars just for the one building. It was a huge building, but still.

I can't begin to guess how much of this kind of wire is produced every year, and what it all costs.

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