Ethernet LAN Media and Cable Lengths

Cables are commonly used to carry communication signals within LAN. There are three common types of cable media that can be used to connect devices to a network and they are coaxial cable, twisted-pair cable, and fiber-optic cable.

Coaxial cable

Coaxial cable looks similar to the cable used to carry TV signal. A solid-core copper wire runs down the middle of the cable. Around that solid-core copper wire is a layer of insulation, and covering that insulation is braided wire and metal foil, which shields against electromagnetic interference. A final layer of insulation covers the braided wire.

There are two types of coaxial cabling: thinnet and thicknet. Thinnet is a flexible coaxial cable about ¼ inch thick. Thinnet is used for short-distance. Thinnet connects directly to a workstation’s network adapter card using a British Naval Connector (BNC). The maximum length of thinnet is 185 meters. Thicknet coaxial is thicker cable than thinnet. Thicknet cable is about ½ inch thick and can support data transfer over longer distances than thinnet. Thicknet has a maximum cable length of 500 meters and usually is used as a backbone to connect several smaller thinnet-based networks.

The bandwidth for coaxial cable is 10 mbps (mega bits per second).

Twisted Pair Cable

Twisted-pair cable is the most common type of cabling you can see in todays LAN networks. A pair of wires forms a circuit that can transmit data. The pairs are twisted to provide protection against crosstalk, the noise generated by adjacent pairs. When a wire is carrying a current, the current creates a magnetic field around the wire. This field can interfere with signals on nearby wires. To eliminate this, pairs of wires carry signals in opposite directions, so that the two magnetic fields also occur in opposite directions and cancel each other out. This process is known as cancellation. Two Types of Twisted Pairs are Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) and Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP).

Unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cable is the most common networking media. Unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) consists of four pairs of thin, copper wires covered in color-coded plastic insulation that are twisted together. The wire pairs are then covered with a plastic outer jacket. The connector used on a UTP cable is called a Registered Jack 45 (RJ-45) connector. UTP cables are of small diameter and it doesn’t need grounding.  Since there is no shielding for UTP cabling, it relies only on the cancellation to avoid noise. 

UTP cabling has different categories. Each category of UTP cabling was designed for a specific type of communication or transfer rate. The most popular categories in use today is 5, 5e and 6, which can reach transfer rates of over 1000 Mbps (1 Gbps).

The following table shows different UTP categories and corresponding transfer rate.

UTP Category


Transfer Rate

Category 1

Voice Only


Category 2


4 Mbps

Category 3


10 Mbps

Category 4


16 Mbps

Category 5


100 Mbps

Category 5e


1 Gbps

Category 6


1/10 Gbps

Optical Fiber Cabling

Optical Fiber cables use optical fibers that carry digital data signals in the form of modulated pulses of light. An optical fiber consists of an extremely thin cylinder of glass, called the core, surrounded by a concentric layer of glass, known as the cladding. There are two fibers per cable—one to transmit and one to receive. The core also can be an optical-quality clear plastic, and the cladding can be made up of gel that reflects signals back into the fiber to reduce signal loss.

There are two types of fiber optic cable: Single Mode Fibre (SMF) and Multi Mode Fibre (MMF).

1. Single Mode Fibre (SMF) uses a single ray of light to carry transmission over long distances.

2. Multi Mode Fibre (MMF) uses multiple rays of light simultaneously with each ray of light running at a different reflection angle to carry the transmission over short distances

LAN Cables -


Ethernet Media Standards



Ethernet, Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet, are identified by three-part names, which is also known as Media Standard. An example of Media Standard is 10BASE-T. The first part of the Media Standard specifies the transmission speed (10, in this case specifies 10 Mbps)

The second part of the name "BASE" specifies that the Ethernet signal is a Baseband signal.

The final part of the Ethernet Media Standard specifies the kind of cable used. Here T specifies twisted-pair cable. The following table shows the common Ethernet Media Standards.


Media Standard

Cable Type

Bandwidth Capacity

Maximum Length



10 Mbps




10 Mbps



UTP (CAT 3 or higher)

10 Mbps



UTP (CAT 5 or higher)

100 Mbps



Fibre Optic

10 Mbps



Fibre Optic

100 Mbps

HD 400m/FD 2km


UTP (CAT 5e or higher)

1 Gbps (1000 Mbps)



Fibre Optic

1 Gbps (1000 Mbps)

MMF 550m


Fibre Optic

1 Gbps (1000 Mbps)

MMF 500m/SMF 10km


Fibre Optic

1 Gbps (1000 Mbps



Fibre Optic

10 Gbps



Fibre Optic

10 Gbps

SMF 10km


Note: X represents a higher grade of connection, and 100BaseTX is twisted-pair cabling that can use either UTP or STP at 100 Mbps. With fibre-optic cable such as 100BaseFX, the speed is quicker than standard 10BaseF. The “L” stands for “Long” in long wave length lasers and "S" stands for Short Wave Length.


Describe the three most common types of cabling media used in LANs.

Coaxial Cable.Coaxial cable comes in two versions: Thinnet and Thicknet. Thinnet looks like regular TV cable.* It is about 1/4 inch in diameter and is very flexible and easy to work with. In contrast, Thicknetis about 1/2 inch in diameter and not very flexible. Thicknet is older and not very common anymore except as a backbone within and between buildings. Coax transmits at 10 Mbps.. 

Twisted Pair.Twisted pair looks like telephone wire and consists of insulated strands of copper wire twisted together. There are two versions of twisted pair cable: Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) and Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP). STP is commonly used in Token Ring networks and UTP in Ethernet networks where it is referred to as "10baseT."  Transmission rates vary between 10-100 Mbps.. 

Fiber-Optic Cable.Fiber-optic cable consists of a thin cylinder of glass surrounded by glass cladding, encased in protective outer sheath.   Fiber-optic cable is very fast (100 Mbps).  It can transmit over long distances (2 km +) but is expensive.

*Don’t confuse Thinnet cable (RG 58) with cable TV cable (RG 59). They look alike but they are not interchangeable.

2. What are the recommended maximum segment lengths for each type of cable?

The type of cable plays a role in how fast a signal will degrade as it is transmitted. The following are the recommended maximum cable lengths:

Thinnet- maximum length of segment (terminator to terminator) is 185 meters (607 feet)

Thicknet-maximum length of segment (single run) is 500 meters (1,640 feet)

Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) - maximum length of cable between hub and computer is 100 meters (328 feet)

Fiber-Optic- maximum length of cable is 2 kilometers. (6,562 feet)

3. What is a backbone?

A backbone is a generic term used to describe media that interconnects a number of computers, segments or subnets.

In its most common form, a backbone is used to connect hubs. Each hub represents a segment on which individual workstations are connected via UTP cable. The hubs from different segments are then connected to each other with thinnet cable. In this case, the thinnet cable functions as the backbone that links the hubs.

In another example, a backbone may be a length of cable that serves as a trunk. Drop cables are attached from the backbone to connect individual workstations.

A backbone is often used to connect networks in separate buildings. Organizations typically use fiber-optic cable for this type of backbone.

4. What are the characteristics of coaxial cable?

·                     Transmission rate of about 10 Mbps

·                     Maximum cable length of 185 meters for Thinnet, 500 meters for Thicknet

·                     Good resistance to electrical interference

·                     Less expensive than fiber-optics but more expensive than twisted pair.

·                     Flexible and easy to work with (Thinnet)

·                     Wire type is 20 AWG for Thinnet (R-58) and 12 AWG for Thicknet.

·                     Ethernet designation is 10base2 (Thinnet) or 10base5 (Thicknet, also referred to as
        'standard Ethernet').

5. What are the different types of coaxial cable?

·                     RG-58 A/U– Thinnet, stranded wire core, 50 ohms

·                     RG-58 /U – Thinnet, solid wire core, 50 ohms

·                     RG-59 – Thicknet, cable television, broadband

·                     RG-62 – ArcNet, 75 ohms

A cable's designation is typically printed on its outer sheathing. 
As a general rule, you cannot mix coax cable types on the network. 

6. What connection hardware is used with thinnet coaxial cable?

Thinnetutilizes the following connection hardware referred to as ‘BNC’ components:

·                     Terminator – a resister used to absorb the signal once it reaches the end of the bus; connects to a T- or barrel connector; RG-58 requires a 50-ohm terminator;  RG-62 requires a 75-ohm terminator.

·                     Cable Connector– the interface at the end of the cable that is used to connect to a barrel or T-connector

·                     T-Connector – used to connect to a NIC and another cable connector or a terminator (you cannot connect directly to a NIC with a cable connector; you must use a T-connector)

·                     Barrel Connector – used to splice to segments of cable together or attach a terminator at the end of the cable

7. What connection hardware is used with thicknet coaxial cable?

Thicknetutilizes an AUI (Attachment Unit Interface) connector to attach to a Network Interface Card (NIC). The AUI connector has 15 pins and is alternatively referred to as a DB-15 or DIX connector.

One of the unique characteristics of Thicknet is the use of an external transceiver.  (The transceiver is used to convert signals from parallel to serial for transmission on the network.) The Thicknet cable attaches to the transceiver via a clamp or vampire tap. The NIC connects to the transceiver using a drop cable with AUI connectors.

8. What is Plenum cable?

Plenumrefers to the space in buildings between the ceiling and the next floor above it. Because of the potential fire hazard, building codes are very specific about what type of wiring can be placed in this area. refers to the space in buildings between the ceiling and the next floor above it. Because of the potential fire hazard, building codes are very specific about what type of wiring can be placed in this area.

Plenum cablerefers to coaxial cabling that meets the minimum standards to allow it to be strung in the plenum area without having to use special conduit. The insulation and jacket on plenum cabling must be fire resistant and not give off toxic fumes when burned. refers to coaxial cabling that meets the minimum standards to allow it to be strung in the plenum area without having to use special conduit. The insulation and jacket on plenum cabling must be fire resistant and not give off toxic fumes when burned.

Not all coaxial cable is plenum cable. The most common type of coaxial cable is PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which is more flexible and easier to work with than plenum but does not have the same fire resistance features. PVC cable can give off toxic fumes when burned.

9. What are the key characteristics of UTP (unshielded twisted pair)?

·                     Transmission rate of 10-100 Mbps

·                     Maximum cable segment of 100 meters

·                     Most susceptible to electrical interference or ‘crosstalk’ (although shielding may lessen
        the impact)

·                     Less expensive than coax or fiber-optic. In some cases, preinstalled telephone wire
        may be used in the network (if it is of sufficient grade).

·                     Very flexible and easy to work with

·                     Wire type is 22-26AWG

·                     Uses an RJ-45 connector

·                     Ethernet designation is 10baseT

10. What are the characteristics of shielded twisted pair (STP)?

Shielded twisted pair (STP)is similar to UTP except it contains a copper braid jacket to ‘shield’ the wires from electrical interference. It can support transmissions over greater distances than UTP.

11. What are the 5 categories of UTP and what is the minimum acceptable category for 10baseT?

The following categories of unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cable were established by the EIA/TIA* to support the networks indicated:

·                     Category 1- Traditional telephone cable; supports voice only, not data

·                     Category 2 - Data transmissions up to 4 Mbps (but not token ring)

·                     Category 3- 10 Mbps Ethernet

·                     Category 4 - 16 Mbps token-ring

·                     Category 5- 100 Mbps; supports ATM

The minimum acceptable cable for 10baseT Ethernet is Category 3.

*EIA/TIA 568 is the standard developed by the Electronic Industries Association/Telecommunications Industry Association applies to all UTP that works with networks.

12. Are there other cable specifications?

Yes. There are several different specifications used to classify cable. One of the oldest is the AWG (American Wire Gauge) rating. This rating measures the thickness or gauge of the wire with the size being inverse to the rating. For example, a 22 AWG cable is thicker than a 24 AWG cable.  22 AWG wire is typically used in telephone wire and UTP.

IBM uses its own system of cable classification whereby cables are categorized as ‘types.’ For example, Type 3 wire is basically equivalent to the Category 3 wire discussed earlier. However, not all of the types used by IBM coincide exactly with a particular category. In the non-IBM world, UTP cable is typically referred to by its category classification and coax by its RG designation.

13. What connectors are used with UTP?

UTP uses a connection called the RJ-45 connector. It looks similar to a common telephone connector (RJ-11) except it is slightly larger. The RJ-45 has 8 pins while the RJ-11 has only 4.

UTP cable typically runs from a computer’s NIC and plugs directly into a wall plate much like a regular telephone.  It is not uncommon to find wall plates in newer buildings labeled as ‘Voice’ (for telephones) or ‘Data’ (for UTP). The cable running from the wall jack is rarely attached directly into a hub. Instead the individual cables are collected and organized with patch panels located in a ‘wiring closet.’

14. Do I have to have a hub to use UTP cable?

No. If you have two computers and their NICs have RJ-45 connections, then you can simply connect them with UTP cable. However, you will need a special type of UTP cable called a ‘crossover cable.’ This cable is a normal UTP cable with the pin connections switched on one end so that the NICs can talk to each other. You can make a crossover cable by removing the RJ-45 connector at one end and switching (or ‘crossing’) the wire pairs. The downside to using a crossover cable is that it only allows you to connect two computers. If you need to connect more than two computers, you have to buy a hub or use coax cable.

15. What is fiber-optic cable and how does it work?

Fiber-optic cableuses optical rather than electrical pulses to transmit signals.

Fiber-optic cable consists of pure silicon glass cylinders or strands surrounded by cladding. Each strand can pass a signal in only one direction so fiber-optic cable on a network typically consists of at least two strands: one for sending and one for receiving. Electronic signals generated by the computer are converted to optical signals in the form of photons which are transmitted (flashed) down the cable by a laser or light-emitting diode. A photo-detector on the other end collects the optical signals and they are converted back to electrical signals.

Unlike copper cable, the signals on fiber-optic cable are not subject to the problems of attenuation, capacitance, or crosstalk. This greatly increases the potential transmission distance. In addition fiber-optic cable is more secure than copper cable. It does not generate electromagnetic signals and any external tap is easily detected by a reduction in signal strength. Fiber-optic cable is generally more expense than copper cable.

16. What are the key characteristics of fiber-optic cable?

·                     Transmission rate of 100 Mbps

·                     Cable length of 2 kilometers or more

·                     Not affected by electrical interference

·                     Supports voice, video, and data

·                     Provides the most secure media

·                     Most expensive cable

·                     Not very flexible; difficult to work with

·                     Commonly used in backbones between buildings and Token Ring networks

·                     Specifications for fiber include the IEEE’s 10BaseFL (Ethernet) and ANSI’s FDDI or Fiber Distributed Data Interface (Token Ring).

17. List the pros and cons of the basic cable types.

Coaxial Cable

·                     PRO:Flexible and easy to install; relatively good resistance to electronic interference; electronic support components are relatively inexpensive

·                     CON:Short cable length; more expensive than UTP; unsecure; hard to change configuration; thinnet generally not good for use between buildings


·                     PRO:Most flexible; cheapest cable (but requires expensive support components); easy to install; easy to add users; may be able to use existing phone cable if data grade

·                     CON:Shortest usable cable length; susceptible to electrical interference; unsecure; generally not good for use between buildings


·                     PRO:Fastest transmission rate; not susceptible to electrical interference; secure; good for use between buildings

·                     CON:Most expensive; relatively difficult to work with

18. Describe the following potential problems with copper wire transmissions: attenuation, impedance, capacitance, and crosstalk.

The following items are a potential problem for copper wire cabling:

Attenuation.Attenuation refers to the degradation of signal strength (amplitude) that occurs in transmissions over long distances. Shortening the transmission distance or using repeaters can help solve this problem.

Impedance.Impedance is resistance and it affects a signal made up of various frequencies. The resistance changes at different frequencies, resulting in distortion of the signal. Shortening the transmission distance or lowering the frequency can help solve this problem.

Capacitance.Capacitance is the measure of stored electrical charge in a cable. This charge can distort transmissions by changing the shape of the signal (as opposed to amplitude). Thick or bundled (closely adjoining) cables contribute to capacitance. Unbundled, thin cable over shorter distances will reduce capacitance.

Crosstalk.Background noise is a form of electrical interference that is generated by external sources. If the external source of interference is an adjacent cable, it is referred to as crosstalk. Crosstalk is more common in UTP than in coaxial cable. Ambient noise is a form of background noise generated by shop equipment, fluorescent lights, etc.

Unlike copper wire cable, fiber-optic cable is generally not susceptible to the problems described above.

19. What factors should I considered when choosing cable?

The following factors should be considered when choosing the type of cable for your network:

·                     Size - How many nodes (computers) and what are the total distances between them?

·                     Cost - What is the budget and how much can be spent on cabling?

·                     Reliability - How dependent are your organization’s operations on the network?

·                     Speed- How many concurrent users are there be and how critical is response time?

·                     Security- How important is it to protect data from possible interception?

·                     Growth- What are the organization’s plans for growth?

·                     Administration- How will the network be administered?

·                     Electrical Interference - What is the physical environment in which the network will operate?

·                     Existing Cable- Are there conduits or cabling already in place that might be useable (e.g., data grade phone lines for UTP)?

20. What are the alternatives to wire or fiber-optic cable?

There are several alternatives to wire or fiber-optic cable as the transmission media. However, these ‘wireless’ options have not met with widespread acceptance primarily because 1) the technologies have not been fully developed and 2) they are expensive.

Some examples of wireless transmission media include:

·                     Infrared

·                     Laser

·                     Radio