What’s The Purpose Of An Ethernet Patch Cable?The simple answer to this question: it’s a network cable that can be used to make connections between two Ethernet ports or devices.
Naturally, the actual answer is more complicated.
Look at it this way. If you need to tie your shoe, you could use a shoelace, a 100-foot length of rope or even an electrical power cord, even though the latter two options would be awfully cumbersome. In common sense terms, the shoelace is the only reasonable choice.
Similarly, Ethernet networks often require short connections between two devices, a device and a router, or two ports in a network patch panel. You could use a 500-foot length of Ethernet cable to make the connection, but it makes a lot more sense to use a much shorter Ethernet cable designed specifically for the purpose.
If you’re looking for a more concise definition, an Ethernet patch cable is a short Ethernet twisted-pair cable, manufactured with a connector at each end.
The patch cable usually has RJ45 plugs (commercially called 8P8C plugs) on each end, but there are now some on the market with more advanced GG45 connectors designed for the newest Cat7 Ethernet networks.
You can find patch cables as long as 150 feet, but lengths from 1½ to 10 feet are more commonly seen and used. The greater a patch cable’s length, the more important that it is built with shielding to prevent interference.
Bulk Ethernet cables – as opposed to Ethernet patch cables – can be 1000 feet long or even longer, and the connectors normally have to be attached to them manually.
The smaller length of a patch cable is one reason why it’s so convenient to use; the other is that patches are manufactured to be more flexible than long, stiff copper Ethernet cable – making them ideal for use in small spaces or for packing into a laptop case.
When You’d Need an Ethernet Patch Cable
The most common household or small office use of an Ethernet patch cable is to connect a computer to a wired network. One end is plugged into a network jack in the wall or into a router or switch, and the other end is plugged into the computer’s Ethernet port. Patches are also used to connect devices in a small network, like hooking up a modem to a router, or connecting a router and a switch.
Business travelers often carry an Ethernet patch cable with them, to connect their laptop to wired networks in older hotels where wireless service is spotty or non-existent.
In computer and data centers, the use of Ethernet patch cables is more extensive. That’s because the majority of connections run through what’s known as a patch panel, basically a “switchboard” where network lines terminate. That makes it easy to change network configurations, test bad connections, or temporarily swap out equipment. Since that device is known as a “patch panel,” the cables used for connections within it became known as “patch cords,” and the name stuck.
What about connecting two computers or devices of the same type directly to each other? That’s also done with a type of Ethernet patch cable, but it’s a specialized one known as a crossover cable. It looks like a standard Ethernet patch, but the internal wiring is different.
A standard Ethernet patch cable passes signals straight through the conductors, which is why it’s sometimes called a “pass through” cable. A crossover patch, on the other hand, reverses the received and transmitted signals at one end of the cable. That means the two are not interchangeable.
You probably won’t have to worry about buying a crossover instead of a standard Ethernet patch cable by mistake, since crossover cables are much less common and should be prominently marked. It wouldn’t hurt to check before purchasing or using a patch cable, though, just to be sure.
Types of Ethernet Patch Cables
Ethernet patch cables are primarily identified by the specifications of the network they’ve been designed for, so you’ll commonly be able to choose between Cat5e (Category 5e) patches and Cat6/6a (Category 6) patches. Cat7 patch cables have become available more recently, but almost all home and business networks are either Cat5e or Cat6.
As you probably know, Cat6 is backward-compatible with Cat5e, meaning you can safely use either type of Ethernet patch cable in a normal network.
The distinction is an important one, however, because a Cat6 network can support much higher bandwidth and transfer speeds than Cat5e. If you use a Cat5e patch cable in a Cat6 network it will work, but you may not get all of the performance you’d expect, particularly with longer cables.
If you compared the construction of the two types of cable, you’d find that the conductors in Cat6 patch cables are more tightly wound and have much better shielding to prevent interference and crosstalk. That can make them slightly more expensive than Cat5e patches, but since patch cables aren’t a high-ticket item to start with, the price difference is minimal.
The other two distinctions between Ethernet patch cables are largely logistical or cosmetic; one is the length of the cable, and the other is its color.
Cmple has an enormous selection of Cat5e and Cat6 Ethernet patch cables available at extremely friendly prices. They’re all rigorously designed and manufactured to meet or exceed industry specifications, they’re available in 11 different lengths (from 1½ feet to 150 feet), and can be chosen in eight different colors. Each cable terminates (on each end) in an RJ45 plug with molded strain relief for protection against pulling and tugging.
Anyone with an Ethernet network should have a selection of these cables on hand. You never know when one will come in handy.