What Ethernet Cable Do I Need?

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Does ethernet really make a difference? Yes! The type of ethernet cable you have can also make a huge difference, but with so many options out there — it's hard to know which ethernet cable is right for you. Our guide will help you figure out which one is best for your internet connection.

What Is an Ethernet Cable and Why Is It Used?

Ethernet is technology that connects between different devices in a network. It allows your devices to communicate via a protocol, which is a set of rules or common network language. An ethernet cable is a physical, encased set of wires that allows data to travel. Compared to wireless technology, ethernet is less vulnerable to disruptions. An Ethernet cable is used for faster speeds, like Cat 5e and Cat 6e (or higher). Ethernet cables connect your modem, router, computer, and other wired Internet-capable devices to carry broadband signals. Ethernet also offers a stronger network security and control than WiFi since devices are connected to a physical cable, making it hard for outsiders to access network data or steal bandwidth for unapproved devices.

Types Ethernet Cables and How To Choose One

The most basic ethernet cable is the Cat 5: This cable is very outdated and hard to find. The only households that should be using a Cat 5 are those with Internet plans with speeds lower than 100 Mbps. However, if you need a new cable entirely, upgrade to Cat 5e. This cable will be much easier to find than a Cat 5 and will still be usable if you do decide to upgrade your Internet speed in the future.

Cat 5e cable is the current standard. A Cat 5e cable is able to support Internet plans with speeds up to 1,000 Mbps and helps get rid of unwanted transfer of signal between the cables, leading to a stronger connection. The estimated price for a 12 ftCat 5e cable is less than $10, making it a great choice for most households. If you want an affordable way to upgrade your connection, Cat 5e is a great option.

Another one you should know is the Cat 6: This cable offers support for the same speeds as the Cat 5e, but will double your bandwidth. Having a higher bandwidth will increase download and upload speeds. Another added benefit of Cat 6 cables is shielding. Shielding is a protective barrier that shields the wires inside the ethernet cable from interference. Unfortunately, not all Cat 6 cables come with this feature. If you want shielding, look for "STP'' or "shielded twisted pair" when looking for Cat 6 cables. A Cat 6 cable is a good choice if your Internet plan is less than 1,000 Mbps and you are looking for higher bandwidth.

If your Internet plan has speeds up to 10,000 Mbps, you might benefit from a Cat 6a cable. Cat 6a increases your speed and bandwidth. In addition, all Cat 6a and higher cables guarantee shielding to eliminate interference entirely. Cat 6a cables will support your high-speed Internet connection for years to come, even as faster cable and fiber-optic Internet speeds become available. A Cat 6a cable is right for you if your Internet plan speeds exceed 1,000 Mbps and you want a cable that won’t be outdated in two to three years.

One of the newest ethernet cables available is Cat 7. While this is newer technology available on the market, the Cat 7 doesn't offer much more than Cat 6a aside from higher bandwidth. Cat 7 cables support speeds of up to 10,000 Mbps, and 600 MHz of bandwidth, while Cat 6a supports 500 MHz. The higher bandwidth of Cat 7 allows for faster data transfers, so if you want to download or upload large files, the Cat 7 might be right for you.

Cat 7a is the newest, best, and priciest ethernet cable on the market. Similar to the Cat 6a and Cat 7 cables, the Cat 7a supports speeds up to 10,000 Mbps, but its max bandwidth is exponentially higher at 1,000 MHz. The Cat 7a is definitely much more than the average person needs, but perfect for those who want to invest in the best cable now that will be compatible with upcoming technologies.

What Cat Ethernet Cable Do I Need?

It can be challenging to determine which Ethernet cables will work best for you without going overboard, but we're here to help you figure it out. We've put together a handy table that compares the speeds and benefits of various Ethernet connections.

CatSpeed Max. BandwidthBest For
Cat 510-100Mbps100MhzInternet plans with speeds lower than 100Mbps
Cat 5e1Gbps100MhzThose with standard Internet plans looking for an affordable upgrade
Cat 61Gbps>>250MhzThose looking to improve network stability
Cat 6a10Gbps500MhzThose with Internet exceeding 1Gbps looking for a cable that won’t be outdated in the next several years
Cat 710Gbps600MhzThose looking for faster data transfers
Cat 7a10Gbps1000MhzThose looking to invest in the best cable that will be compatible with future technologies

Is Ethernet Faster Than WiFi?

Ethernet is almost always faster than a Wi-Fi connection. An ethernet cable allows your devices to send and receive data instantaneously, especially if you have a fiber-optic Internetinternet connection. Another perk of an ethernet connection is router placement doesn't matter: As long as your cable reaches your devices, you won't have to worry about slow speeds. Your data is less likely to get lost or degrade as it’s transferring as well. You also will no longer have to worry about your signal being blocked by nearby barriers. The only way your ethernet cable can actually be disrupted is if your cable physically breaks. Furthermore, an ethernet connection can't be hacked by unauthorized users. To be able to use an Ethernet connection, your device must be physically connected to the cable.

Why is Ethernet Faster Than WiFi?

Because you're effectively hard-wired into the Internet, Ethernet connections are quicker. To and from your device, your traffic does not need to travel across wireless signals. This decreases transmission delays and allows you to move at a faster pace.

What is the Fastest Alternative to Ethernet?

In the smart home era, the latest iteration of WiFi networking may give quicker speeds than Gigabit data transfer through wireless, giving it a significant edge. Standard Ethernet connections have been the fastest type of Internet connectivity until today compared to WiFi 6. WiFi 6's single-stream speed has been increased to 1.2 Gbps in real-world testing, which is 20% quicker than connecting over Gigabit Ethernet.

Select Internet bundles from Optimum include Smart WiFi 6. The Optimum Gateway 6, a next-generation modem and router from Optimum, is at the heart of it all. Gateway 6 is perfect for users who want the highest quality speed for the Internet they pay for. You’ll stay seamlessly connected on one powerful mesh WiFi network without sacrificing mobility.

Optimum Xtend is available for larger homes or congested locations. It's a WiFi extender that works with your Optimum Gateway to provide better overall WiFi coverage, even in difficult-to-reach areas.

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