Do I Really Need to Use Shielded Ethernet Cable?

Some people have asked us, why do we recommend shielded Ethernet cable to ConveyLinx users?  To us, it just makes sense to reduce any possible interference before it takes a network down at the most inopportune time. You know the "times" I'm talking about don't you?  You get that call on the 4th of July as you're lighting up fireworks for the kids, only to put the celebration on hold to debug a network issue over the phone.  That's no fun, especially when it could have been avoided.

Let's take a look some of the basics of the Ethernet media and the different tested categories. Ethernet is typically split into 4 different categories.  

  • Cat-5 - 100 Meter length, capable of speeds of up to 100Mb/s

  • Cat-5E  - 100 Meter length, capable of speeds of up to 1Gb/s

  • Cat-6   - 100 Meter length, capable of speeds of up to 10Gb/s(10 Gb/s length is 55Meter)

  • Cat-6a   - 100 Meter length, capable of speeds of up to 10Gb/s

As you can tell, the higher the category, the higher possible speeds at which data can be transmitted and received.  This is primarily due to the manufacturers ability to eliminate or reduce "CrossTalk" or interference which is done in a few ways.  One way is by twisting the wire inside the jacket which Alexander Graham Bell discovered back in the late 1800's while running telephone wires alongside power lines.  Some other ways of reducing Interference is by adding a Nylon Spline inside the cable, or by increasing the thickness of the cable jacket called the sheath.

All the above methods do an OK job of keeping EM/RF Interference at bay for offices, homes, or controlled environments, but what about a factory?  If you're running Ethernet wires along side high voltage lines, near AC motors, near welders, and many other types of Industrial equipment, the wire will definitely be subjected to interference.  It's this type of environment where it's highly recommended to use shielded Ethernet cable to maximize your network Integrity while keeping your downtime to a minimum.

There are several types of shielding options provided by cable manufacturers such as braided wires, foil wrapping, or a combination of the two.  It's said that the "braided shield" offers 60% to 85% shielding from interference and can offer about 95% coverage which is much better than just a foil wrapping or worse; nothing at all.  Most times you'll see that manufacturers use both braided shield and foil to give you the very best protection against interference.  This type of protection ensures the greatest and smoothest transactions between packets of information being whizzed around the wire at extremely high speeds.  

Taking the knowledge I've shared today, would you really want to chance it on an Ethernet Cable without a shield even though it's only pennies extra?  I don't know about you, but after learning more about Ethernet in industrial applications I've decided that if it's Industrial I'm using shielded cable.

Find me on Google+ to discuss in more detail, or contact us.