What Ethernet Cable Do I Need?

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Is there a difference between Ethernet cables? Will a better Ethernet cable increase speed? Does it actually matter what Ethernet cable I use? The answer to all of these questions is yes. The type of Ethernet cable you use can significantly impact your online experience—but with so many options out there, it may feel overwhelming to decide which Ethernet cable to buy.

Our guide on Ethernet cable types will help you determine how to choose an Ethernet cable that fits your needs, whatever they may be. It will be particularly helpful if you’ve recently upgraded (or are considering upgrading) your Internet service to a multi-gigabit plan, as your old cable may not cut it anymore. Keep reading for all the details. 

Ethernet cables can help increase Internet speed

What Is an Ethernet Cable and Why Is It Used?

First things first: Ethernet is an Internet technology that facilitates the connection between different devices on a single network. An Ethernet cable is a physical, encased set of wires that connects to your modem or router as well as the device you’re using (like your computer). Plugging this cable in allows data to travel directly between connected devices via a unique language known as a protocol.

Are All Ethernet Cables the Same? What Types of Ethernet Cables Are There? 

While all types of Ethernet cables work in more or less the same way, there are key differences between Ethernet cables that you should know before purchasing one. Ethernet cables are made up of twisted pairs of wires, typically insulated to reduce electromagnetic interference. Below, learn more about different types of Ethernet cables and how they work.

Cat 5 Cable

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 This cable is very outdated and hard to find.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. If you currently have a Cat 5 cable and need to replace it, however, we suggest upgrading to a Cat 5e, as it’ll still be useful if you decide to upgrade your Internet speed in the future. 

Cat 5e Cable

A Cat 5e cable is the current standard. This standard Ethernet cable can 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-foot Cat 5e cable is less than $10, making it an affordable option for most households. 

Cat 6 Cable

The Cat 6 cable offers support for the same speeds as the Cat 5e but will double your bandwidth. Having a higher bandwidth increases both download and upload speeds. Some Cat 6 cables also offer shielding to protect the wires inside your Ethernet cable from electromagnetic interference. If you want this feature, look for "STP'' or "shielded twisted pair" when looking for Cat 6 cables. 

Cat 6a

Cat 6a cables increase speed and bandwidth when compared to the Cat 6 cable. In addition, all Cat 6a and higher cables guarantee shielding to eliminate electromagnetic interference entirely. A Cat 6a cable will support your high-speed Internet connection for years to come, even as faster cable and fiber-optic Internet speeds become available. 

Cat 7

One of the newest Ethernet cables available is the Cat 7. While this is newer technology available on the market, the Cat 7 doesn't offer much more than the 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. This higher bandwidth enables faster data transfers, so if you want to download or upload large files, the Cat 7 might be right for you.

Cat 7a

Cat 7a is the best cable for high-speed Internet—and the most expensive. 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.

Why Does the Type of Ethernet Cable Matter?

Your choice of Ethernet cable can affect how your home network functions. For example, a Gigabit-compatible network can speed things ahead more quickly when sharing images across your home network between two computers. You'll need suitable hardware, such as a router and network cards in your computer, and compatible Ethernet cables to achieve those gigabit speeds. Most contemporary cards and routers can achieve these speeds, but older PCs or routers could require an upgrade. It might also be beneficial to upgrade your Ethernet cables if you have upgraded your hardware but not your cables to gigabit speed. 

What Cat Cable Do I Need?

It can feel like a challenge to determine which Ethernet cable to buy without going overboard, but we're here to help you figure it out. Below, find a handy table that compares the speeds and benefits of various Ethernet connections. 

CatSpeedBest For
Cat 510-100 MbpsThose with Internet plans with speeds lower than 100 Mbps
Cat 5e1 GbpsThose with standard Internet plans looking for an affordable upgrade
Cat 61 GbpsThose looking to improve network stability
Cat 6a10 GbpsThose with Internet speeds exceeding 1 Gbps looking for an Ethernet cable that won’t be outdated in the next several years
Cat 710 GbpsThose looking for faster data transfers
Cat 7a10 GbpsThose looking to invest in the best cable that will be compatible with future technologies 

If you have Optimum Fiber Internet, you’ll need at least a Cat 5e cable to support our 300 Mbps, 500 Mbps, and 1 Gig plans. With our fastest service—8 Gig fiber Internet—you’ll want a Cat 6a, Cat 7, or Cat 7a cable. 

What Does The Ethernet Cable Connect To?

The Ethernet cable connects to two devices: the hub (usually a router or modem) and your Internet-enabled device. Setting up an Ethernet connection is as easy as connecting the cable. Simply connect your Ethernet cable so that one end is plugged into your computer and the other is plugged into an Ethernet port on your hub (usually the router's Internet, Uplink, WAN, or WLAN port). It’s also important to make sure that the port you connect the cable to is compatible—in other words, it’s capable of supporting the same speed as your chosen Ethernet cable.

Is Ethernet Faster Than WiFi? 

Your Internet speeds depend on several factors, including the plan you choose and the capability of your devices. As such, using an Ethernet cable may be faster than WiFi in some cases, but not always. However, there are other benefits of Ethernet cables worth considering. 

For one, using an Ethernet cable allows for rapid data transfer, especially if you have a fiber-optic Internet connection. Another perk of an Ethernet connection is that 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, and you won’t have to worry about the signal being blocked by nearby barriers.

In fact, the only way a disruption can occur is if your Ethernet cable physically breaks. Lastly, an Ethernet connection can’t be hacked by unauthorized users. To utilize the connection, your device must be physically connected to the cable. 

What Is The Fastest Alternative to Ethernet?

Historically, Ethernet connections were considered to be the fastest method of Internet connectivity. However, with the launch of WiFi 6, that’s no longer the case. This latest iteration of WiFi networking may provide quicker speeds than Gigabit data transfer through wireless, giving it a significant edge over wired connections. 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.

Ultimately, you have many different options when it comes to connecting to the Internet. But whatever your needs, Optimum has a solution to fit them.


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