Broadly speaking, a network cable is a type of cable wiring used in telecommunications that relays data from individual computers to a larger network mainframe. Sometimes these cables are external, and can be used to do things like plug computers into Internet modems or grounded ports. They can also be part of a larger infrastructure, and in these cases are often built into walls along with things like electrical working in order to provide ready access to Internet and cable television services. When it comes to technical specifics there are a number of different varieties, but the most common tend to be twisted pair, coaxial, Ethernet, and fiberoptic. Not all are interchangeable, and each is usually best suited for a specific purpose, so anyone looking to buy a cable or to install it for a specific project is usually wise to do a bit of research before making an investment.
Why They’re Used
Computer networking can be something of a complex science, but when it comes to cabling the goal is pretty clear; namely, information transfer. Information travels from place to place through a series of data “packets,” basically bits and bytes of numerically coded information that are sent by one computer or device to another. In order to promote efficiency and speed, most networks break data down into its smallest pieces — the bits and bytes — then sends those little pieces individually. Once at the destination, they’re rearranged. The cable provides the conduit, and basically acts as the roadway over with those pieces travel.
Twisted Pair Examples
The unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cable is used in many home and business-based Ethernet networks. It has four pairs of wires that are housed inside of the lining of the cable. Each pair is twisted into several additional twists to prevent interference from other devices on the network. The structure of this type of cable increases its reliability and helps minimize network failures, and as such is common over networks where there are a lot of users or, alternatively, a lot of connected computers.
Coaxial cable, or “coax” as it is sometimes known, is another common type of network cable. It has a copper conductor in its center and a plastic coating serves as an insulator between the center conductor and a metal shield. The coating may be thin or thick; the thicker coating is less pliable, but may provide extra protection.
Ethernet crossover cable eliminates the need for network switches or routers. The cable also allows the computers to be connected using their network adaptors, such as the network interface card (NIC). People who are wanting to buy a portable network cable to carry with them to connect things like laptop computers to external Internet ports or jacks usually choose this type.
Fiberoptic cables are used for networks that span large distances. As a result, this type of cabling has several layers of protective coating. It also transmits light as opposed to electrical signals like other cables. This makes it an ideal cable for network environments that are exposed to large amounts of electrical interference. It also transmits information at high speeds and is therefore used in large network environments like those used by big businesses.
Looking Toward a Wireless World
Wireless networks and data exchanges have become increasingly popular in many parts of the world, causing some to question the long-term relevance of grounded networks and the cables that support them. However, it is important to realize that while individual computers may connect to servers wirelessly, those servers are still grounded. Home wireless networks, for instance, still require a cable connecting the modem to the source of Internet data; on a larger scale, the same is true for businesses and corporations. Cables of the future may take a slightly different shape or form, but will most certainly still be an important part of the telecommunications landscape.