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If you’ve ever shopped for a home network, chances are you’ve heard of Ethernet cables. But what are they for, why would you want to use them, and how are they different?

A reliable network connection

An Ethernet cable is a cable that connects between your computer, TV, game console, or other device and a network router, modem, or switch. Gives your device access to a local network or the Internet. Although Wi-Fi has become a very common way to connect to the Internet, an Ethernet cable can provide a faster and more stable Internet connection than today’s wireless connection.

Ethernet cables typically use RJ-45 connectors on both ends and can be up to 300 feet long. Also, there are no upstream or downstream ports on an Ethernet cable, so you can connect whichever end you want to a router or your computer.

As mentioned, Ethernet cables are primarily used to access a local network or the Internet. But you can also use them to establish a direct connection between two devices.

How much better is Ethernet over Wi-Fi?

The speed of a wired connection depends on several things, such as the speed of the router, the category of the Ethernet cable (more on this later), and the capabilities of your device. That said, most modern Ethernet connections are routinely capable of delivering speeds of 1 Gbps or higher, faster than common Wi-Fi connections, even Wi-Fi 6.

Also, since Ethernet cables provide a direct wired connection, you get a more reliable and consistent experience than Wi-Fi. You also don’t have to worry about the distance of a wireless router or obstacles in between.

In addition to speed and reliability, an Ethernet cable can also reduce the latency of your connection, which is essential, especially if you play online games.

Lastly, Ethernet cables may also be better for network security and control than Wi-Fi. Since the devices are connected by a cable, it is difficult for outsiders to access your network or data without physical access.

Ethernet cable categories

Just like any other technology, not all Ethernet cables are created equal. Instead, there are different categories, each with a different level of capabilities and features, but primarily speed.

While looking for Ethernet cables, you may have noticed that they are labeled Cat-5, Cat-5e, or Cat-6. “Cat” here is short for Category, and the number represents the specification it supports. Although there have been cable categories 1 through 4, they are obsolete or technically not recognized as part of the Ethernet standard. That means you don’t have to worry about anything below Cat-5. Even Cat-5 itself is quite old and not recommended for any new installations, but you may still find it in circulation or in existing installations.

Category 5 (Cat-5) cables can support data transfer speeds of up to 100 Mbps and have a bandwidth of 100 MHz, but they don’t come with any shielding. The shield helps protect the cable from electromagnetic interference from an external source.

Category-5e (Cat-5e) cables are an improved version of Cat-5. It’s not an officially designated category, but Cat-5e cables can support up to 1 Gbps speed, 100 MHz bandwidth, and are built with better resistance to crosstalk. Cat-5e is the most common Ethernet cable you’ll find on the consumer market today.

Compared to Cat-5e, a Category 6 cable is a big step forward. While they are rated for speeds of just 1 Gbps over longer distances, you can get up to 10 Gbps over shorter distances of up to 37 meters (121 feet). This is possible thanks to better shielding and the increased bandwidth of 250 MHz.

A fast and reliable connection

50ft Cat-6 Ethernet Cable

This Cat-6 cable has nearly 100,000 reviews on Amazon and is long enough to reach every corner of your home.

Category-6a is a more advanced version of the Cat-6 specification. Supports twice the bandwidth of Cat-6 at 500 MHz and speeds up to 10 Gbps up to 100 meters.

Category 7 is an outlier. It was ratified as a standard before Cat-6a, but has yet to see much adoption despite supporting 10 Gbps speeds up to 100 meters and 600 MHz bandwidth. Part of the reason Cat-7 is not as popular is its patented nature. It was developed by a group of companies and is not an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standard. It is also not approved by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). Also, Cat-7 cables use a proprietary connector.

Category 7a is an advancement over Cat-7 and supports 40 Gbps speeds up to 50 meters and 100 Gbps speeds up to 15 meters. Unfortunately, despite being quite capable, it has suffered the same fate as Cat-7, as it has the same problems, being a proprietary standard.

Among the TIA and IEEE approved standards, Category 8 cables come after Cat-6a. Cat-8 cables support bandwidth up to 2000 MHz and are rated for speeds of 25 Gbps or 40 Gbps up to 30 meters. It’s definitely an improvement, but a Cat-8 cable will generally be more expensive than lower categories.

As you consider your options, keep in mind that with the right tools, you can cut your own Ethernet cables so it’s always exactly the right length for what you need.

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