Ethernet Cable vs Network Cable: What’s the Difference?

Ethernet Cable vs Network Cable

In networking, cables quietly power our connections and keep the digital world spinning. However, when it comes to setting up a network, not all cables are the same.

The terms “ethernet cable” and “network cable” are often used interchangeably, but key differences can impact your network’s efficiency and reliability.

Let’s dive into what sets these cables apart and why choosing the right one matters for your connection.

What is an Ethernet Cable?

Ethernet cables are network cables designed for use in Ethernet-based networks. They connect devices like computers, routers, and switches within a local area network (LAN). [1]

Standard Ethernet cables, such as twisted pair cables, are categorized into different classes (Cat5, Cat6, Cat7, etc.) based on their capabilities, including data transmission speed, bandwidth, and resistance to electromagnetic interference.

These cables use copper wiring and can terminate directly into devices or patch panels, providing a stable, high-speed internet connection.

Have a network installation project?

What is Network Cable?

Network cables encompass a broader category of cables used to connect devices in a network, including Ethernet cables, but also expand to other types, such as optic cables, coaxial cables, and patch cables.

Network cabling can refer to any wiring system that supports data transmission between network hardware.

It includes fiber optic cables, which offer high bandwidth for longer distances without the susceptibility to electromagnetic interference that copper networks face. [2]

Essentially, network cables are the veins of a network, ensuring that data flows smoothly between different points, whether they’re using copper wiring, optical fiber, or a combination of ports for connectivity.

Ethernet Cable vs Network Cable Compared

Ethernet Cable

When diving into the differences between network cables and ethernet cables, it’s important to understand that while all ethernet cables are network cables, not all network cables are ethernet cables.

The main distinctions lie in their usage, types, speed and performance, connectors, and physical characteristics. Here’s a closer look at how they compare:

FeatureEthernet CableNetwork Cable
UsagePrimarily used within local networks to connect devices like computers, routers, and switches.Used in a broader scope to connect network devices, including ethernet and other technologies like fiber optics and coaxial.
TypesTwisted pair cables (Cat5e, Cat6, Cat7), standard ethernet cables.Includes ethernet cables, optic cables, coaxial cables, and fiber optic cables.
Speed and PerformanceDesigned to support high data transmission speeds and reduce electromagnetic interference. Specific categories (e.g., Cat5e, Cat6) determine the supported speed and bandwidth.Varies widely depending on the type. Fiber optic cables support higher bandwidth and longer distances than traditional ethernet cables. Coaxial can offer durability and shielding over long distances.
ConnectorsRJ-45 connectors are standard.Varies by type: RJ-45 for ethernet, SC or LC for fiber optics, BNC for coaxial cables.
Physical CharacteristicsConsist of copper wiring in twisted pairs, with or without shielding to protect against interference. Typically flexible for easy routing through offices and homes.Physical characteristics vary widely. Fiber optics use glass or plastic fibers for data transmission, offering high speed over long distances. Coaxial cables are thicker and designed for durability and shielding.

A Closer Look At The Differences

Materials

  • Ethernet Cables: Primarily made of copper wiring, ethernet cables utilize twisted pairs to minimize electromagnetic interference and crosstalk. The construction and quality of the copper used can significantly impact the cable’s performance and durability.
  • Network Cables: This category includes a broader range of materials. Fiber optic cables, for instance, use glass or plastic fibers to transmit data through light, offering advantages over copper-based cables in speed and distance. Coaxial cables, another type of network cable, comprise a central metal conductor surrounded by insulation and shielding.

Speed

  • Ethernet Cables: The speed of ethernet cables, such as Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat7, varies significantly, with some supporting operating speeds up to 10 Gbps (Gigabits per second) or more over short distances. The category of cable directly influences its bandwidth capabilities.
  • Network Cables: Speeds can vary widely depending on the cable type. Fiber optics, for example, can support speeds of up to 100 Gbps over longer distances than copper cables, making them suitable for high-speed data transmission.

Range

Network Cable
  • Ethernet Cables: Generally, ethernet cables are used for connections within shorter distances, typically within a single building or local network environment, due to signal degradation over long distances.
  • Network Cables: Fiber optic cables can transmit data over kilometers without significant loss, making them ideal for connecting networks across longer distances, whereas coaxial cables can also be used over longer distances than standard ethernet cables, though with some limitations on speed and signal quality.

Application

  • Ethernet Cables: Commonly used to connect devices like computers, switches, and routers within a local network. They are also used as patch cables in networking setups to connect one device to another or to an internet entry port in wiring closets.
  • Network Cables: The application of network cables extends beyond local networks to include internet and cable TV connections, long-distance telecommunications, and high-speed data transfer between data centers. Fiber optics, for example, are often used in backbone networks due to their high bandwidth and long-range capabilities.

Classification

  • Ethernet Cables: Classified based on their performance, including categories like Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat7. Each category supports different operating speeds and bandwidths, suitable for various applications within a local network.
  • Network Cables: The classification of network cables encompasses a wider array of cable types, including ethernet, fiber optics, and coaxial cables. Each type is designed for specific uses, from basic internet connectivity to high-speed data center operations, with classifications often based on the cable’s construction, material, and intended application.

FAQs

Can I use a network cable as an Ethernet cable?

Yes, you can use a network cable as an Ethernet cable if it meets the required specifications for Ethernet connectivity.

Ethernet cables are a subset of network cables specifically designed for Ethernet networks. If the network cable has RJ-45 connectors and is rated for the operating speeds you need, it can function as an Ethernet cable.

Which is better, Ethernet or LAN cable?

The terms “Ethernet cable” and “LAN cable” are often used interchangeably to describe cables used in local area networks (LANs).

Both are designed to support operating speeds required for LAN connectivity, including connecting to routers, switches, and other devices within a network. The “better” choice depends on your specific needs, such as the required data transmission speed and the network environment.

How do I know if my cable is an Ethernet cable or network cable?

A: To determine if your cable is an Ethernet cable, check for the following:

Connectors: Ethernet cables typically have RJ-45 connectors on both ends.
Category Rating: Look for a category rating printed on the cable, such as Cat5e, Cat6, etc., which indicates it’s designed for Ethernet.
Cable Type: Ethernet cables are often twisted pair cables. If it matches these characteristics, it’s likely an Ethernet cable. Remember, while all Ethernet cables are network cables, not all network cables are Ethernet cables. Other network cables include optical fiber or coaxial cables used for different applications.

Key Takeaways

Ethernet cables are a specific type of network cable designed for Ethernet networks, capable of supporting various operating speeds and connecting devices within a LAN.

Network cables encompass a broader category, including Ethernet cables, but also fiber optics, coaxial cables, and more, each suited for different networking applications beyond just Ethernet connectivity.

Understanding the difference between Ethernet cables and other network cables is crucial for setting up an efficient and effective network that meets your specific requirements.

If you’re planning to upgrade your network or need advice on the best cabling solution for your business, The Network Installers are here to help. Our experts can guide you through choosing the right cable types, ensuring your network operates at peak efficiency. 

Contact us today for a free consultation and take the first step towards a more connected future. Get in touch now for expert advice and services tailored to your unique requirements.

Have a network installation project?

References:

  1. https://www.businessinsider.com/guides/tech/what-is-an-ethernet-cable
  2. https://www.snexplores.org/article/scientists-say-fiber-optic-cable-definition-pronunciation
Do you have a question about Network Installation or Low Voltage Installation?
About Us
The Network Installers is a low voltage electrical contractor that provides data cabling, network installation, fiberoptic installation, and WIFI installation. We've been serving commercial customers since 2008 with exceptional quality, consistency, and professionalism.

Share:

More Posts

Do you have a question about Network Installation or Low Voltage Installation?
Table of Contents
Oakland network installation 3

Are you looking to install a

Commercial Network Installation System?

Get in touch with The Network Installer today!