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LAN Cables and Categories

This free lesson is part of Teracom's Online Course "Ethernet, LANs and VLANs".

This course is part of the CTNS Certification Package, a set of six courses plus Telecommunications Certification Organization (TCO) Certified Telecommunications Network Specialist certification. It is also in the four-course "IP" package, the Certified IP Telecom Network Specialist (CIPTS) Certification Package. CTNS is more complete training, six courses beginning with the PSTN, plus wireless then the four CIPTS "IP" courses.

In this lesson, we explore the TIA standards for LAN cables, and understand which category of cable is applicable for which line speed of LAN.

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Lesson Notes
Learning Objectives

On completion of this lesson, you will be able to describe:

• The TIA-568 categories
• Cat 5, Cat 5e and Cat 6
• How all cables are four pairs
• How the pairs are twisted
• How the manufacturing quality often determines whether the cable
can be certified as meeting the TIA-568 standard, and
• General practices for wiring buildings.

LANs for the most part run over cables inside buildings. The term “cable” is often used to mean “bundles of wires”.  Connectors or terminations may also be included in the package. 

Copper wires are typically used for LAN cables.  Copper is used because it is inexpensive, pliable, corrosion-resistant, and easy to extrude into long, thin wires. 

Historically, copper wires have been used for two-wire telephone circuits (“loops”).  The two wires are twisted together to reduce pickup of noise, and so are often referred to as twisted pair.

The wire may be solid or braided, the latter being more expensive to manufacture but better resistant to breakage.  A shield may be placed around individual pairs, and/or around the entire bundle of wires in a cable.  The shield is a metal foil or mesh that prevents noise from reaching the wires inside it. 

Category 5 and 5e cables, for up to 1 Gb/s are unshielded twisted pair (UTP). Category 6 cables have shielding as illustrated.

cat 6 cable
Cross-Section of TIA-568 Category 6 Cable
TIA-568 LAN Cable Categories

The most widely-followed standard for LAN cables is TIA-568, published by the Electronic Industries Association and its Telecommunications Industry Association sub-group. This standard defines categories of twisted-pair cabling that support different line speeds.

Telecommunications Systems Bulletin TSB-67 adds the requirements and methods for field testing installed cable systems. Taken together, these are the authority how to design and install a structured cabling system.
  • TIA-568 Category 1 cable is existing telephone cabling, also called Rusty Twisted Pair (RTP).
  • Category 2 cable was 25-pair multiconductor cables for old key telephone systems that had buttons to press to access different lines.
  • Category 3 cable was specified for 10 Mb/s Ethernet on twisted pair, 10BASE-T.
  • Category 4 cable was specified for the 16 Mb/s token ring.
  • Category 5 cabling was for the future at up to 1000 Mb/s.
All of these categories are now obsolete.

Cat 5 cable was supposed to handle Gigabit Ethernet, but in practice turned out to be missing the specification of required transmission characteristics.

Enhanced Category 5 (Cat 5e) was specified to guarantee the operation of 1000BASE-T.

Category 6 cable is specified to support 10 Gb/s on twisted pair.  It starts being necessary to specify the frequency bandwidth supported on the twisted pair along with all of the other transmission characteristics to enable communication at these line speeds.

In theory, Category 7 supports 100 Gb/s on twisted pair.  This is ten times faster than current mainstream fiber-optic transmission systems like SONET OC192, so one could probably expect it will be a while before we see any significant deployment of Cat 7.

Cable Construction

All of these categories specify cables with four pairs (eight wires) and a maximum length of 100 meters. 

The difference between the categories rests in guaranteed transmission characteristics of the cable, including specifications for Near-End Crosstalk (NEXT), Attenuation to Crosstalk Ratio (ACR), supported frequency bandwidth, all of which affect the maximum possible information transfer rate, and hence what kind of devices can be successfully attached to each end of the cable.

One of the main factors in getting a cable certified to meet the TIA-568 category is quality control, particularly in the consistency of the twisting and placement of the pairs. 

Two pairs will be twisted at a particular number of twists per inch, but offset by half a period to minimize crosstalk between the pairs.  The other two pairs will be twisted at a different rate that is not a multiple of the other, and similarly with the twists exactly not lined up. 

How well and how consistently this is accomplished during the manufacturing process determines how successful the manufacturer will be in having the cable certified as meeting the standard.

Which to Use

When determining which category of cable to use, life cycle and cost are determining factors.

For a patch cable connecting a DSL or Cable Modem to a device inside a residence, where we have an expectation that the line speed will not exceed 100 Mb/s in the foreseeable future, then Cat 5 patch cables may be used.

For an extra ten cents, a Cat 5e patch cable would allow the continued use of the cable were the line speed to increase above 100 Mb/s, as it inevitably will at some time in the future.

When wiring a building, the cost of the labor to pull the cables is far more than the cost of the cable.  Conventional wisdom is to install the highest capacity available cable at the time the building is wired to avoid having to ever rewire the building. 

The person who worked for a school board who got upset at me in a class for telling them they had made a mistake wiring their schools with Cat 3 to save a bit of money is to this day stuck at a maximum of 10 Mb/s, when the rest of the world is at 100 Mb/s and 1000 Mb/s.

At a minimum, Category 5e cable would be pulled in a building.  The smart money would install Category 6 certified cable terminated at one end on a Category 6 certified wall jack and at the other end on Category 6 certified patch panels. 

Patch cords would then used to connect a computer’s LAN jack to the wall jack at one end, and from the patch panel to an Ethernet switch at the other end.  Ethernet switches are covered in an upcoming lesson.

Wiring Designs

The maximum run length of the cables – including runs through risers, poles, conduits – is 100 m (330 feet).

To be conservative, the patch panel and switch would be located in a wiring closet serving a radius of perhaps 100 feet.

These wiring closet switches could be connected to centralized Ethernet switches on each floor, which are connected to a switching router in the communications room, possibly using fiber. A routing switch combines the functions of a LAN switch and router along with many other functions like DHCP. 

In other cases, the wiring closet switches will be connected directly to a centralized switching router with regular LAN cables.

Since the labor cost is usually far greater than the cable, it is strongly recommended to install cable with capacity greater than immediate needs, and twice as many cables as what the conventional wisdom dictates.  

Two Category 6 cables to each work area would be the Cadillac solution.  Two Category 5e cables to each work area would be well positioned for the future.  One Category 5 cable to each work area would probably be viewed as a mistake ten years down the road.


In this lesson, we have covered LAN cables:

• The TIA-568 categories
• Cat 5, Cat 5e and Cat 6
• How all cables are four pairs
• How the pairs are twisted
• How the manufacturing quality often determines whether the cable
can be certified as meeting the TIA-568 standard, and
• Discussed practices for wiring buildings.

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Overview of Courses included in the CTNS Certification Package
Like Teracom's famous core training Course 101 "Telecom, Datacom and Networking for Non-Engineers", our very popular core training DVD-Video packages and the Telecom 101 textbook, the Certified Telecommunications Network Specialist Certification Package begins with the Public Switched Telephone Network, then a course on Wireless Telecommunications, followed by four courses covering IP telecommunications and IP telecom networks.
If you are interested only in IP telecommunications, the CIPTS: Certified IP Telecom Network Specialist package may be appropriate, as it skips the traditional telephony and wireless and goes directly to the IP telecommunications courses.
If your goal is to build a full, rounded knowledge of telecommunications, then understanding the history, structure and operation of the telephone network built over the past 135 years or more is the starting point for everything else.
The CTNS package begins with Course 2201 POTS and the PSTN
On completion of this course, you will be able to draw a model of the Public Switched Telephone Network, identify its components and technologies including loops and trunks, switches, circuit-switching, explain the characteristics and operation of Plain Ordinary Telephone Service, analog and the voiceband, the outside plant, fiber to the neighborhood and remotes.
We begin with a history lesson, understanding how and why telephone networks and the companies that provide them are organized into local access and inter-city transmission, or as we will see, Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) and Inter-Exchange Carriers (IXCs).
Then we will establish a basic model for the PSTN and understand its main components: Customer Premise, Central Office, loop, trunk, outside plant, circuit switching, attenuation, loop length, remotes, and why knowledge of the characteristics of the loop remains essential knowledge even though we are moving to Voice over IP.
Next, we'll cover aspects of telephony and Plain Ordinary Telephone Service, including analog, the voiceband, twisted pair, supervision and signaling including DTMF. The course is completed with an overview of SS7, the control system for the telephone network in the US and Canada.
The next course in the CTNS package is Course 2206 Wireless Telecommunications
On completion of this course, you will be able to draw a model of a cellular wireless telecommunications network, identify all of its components and technologies from handset to mobile switch, and explain the characteristics and operation of FDMA, TDMA, CDMA and OFDMA, and how each was deployed for AMPS, GSM, UMTS and LTE. You will also be able to explain WiFi, the frequencies used and the different 802.11 standards, and the similarities and differences between LEO and GEO satellites.
In many parts of the world, particularly outside Canada, the US and Western Europe, this is the physical telephone network, as deploying radio transceivers is far cheaper than embarking on a new project to pull copper wires and/or fiber to every residence.
Most of this course is devoted to mobile wireless telecommunications. We begin with basic concepts and terminology including base stations and transceivers, mobile switches and backhaul, handoffs, cellular radio concepts and digital radio concepts.
Then, we cover spectrum-sharing technologies and their variations in chronological order: GSM/TDMA vs. CDMA for second generation, 1X vs. UMTS CDMA for third generation along with their data-optimized 1XEV-DO and HSPA, how Steve Jobs ended the standards wars with the iPhone and explaining the OFDM spectrum-sharing method of LTE for 4G.
This course is completed with a lesson on WiFi, or more precisely, 802.11 wireless LANs, and a lesson on satellite communications.
The remaining four courses in the CTNS package are on the "IP" telecommunications network and its three main enabling technologies: Ethernet, IP and MPLS, and beginning with the OSI model and its layers to establish a framework.
If you'd prefer to take just these four "IP" courses, please check out the Certified IP Telecom Network Specialist package.
Course 2212 The OSI Layers and Protocol Stacks
On completion of this course, you will be able to define a protocol and differentiate that from a standard, explain why a layered architecture is required, list the seven layers of the OSI model, the name, purpose and functions of each one, and explain how a protocol stack operates and where the protocol headers are located.
This course establishes a framework for all of the subsequent discussions: the OSI 7-Layer Reference Model, which identifies and divides the functions to be performed into groups called layers. This framework is required to sort out the many functions that need to be performed, and to be able to discuss separate issues separately.
First, we'll define the term "protocol" and compare that to a standard. Then we'll define "layer" and how a layered architecture operates, and provide an overview of the name, purpose and function of each of the seven layers in the OSI model.
Then, we'll go back through the story more slowly, with one lesson for each of the layers, examining in greater detail the functions that have to be performed and giving examples of protocols and how and where they are used to implement particular layers.
The result is a protocol stack, one protocol on top of another on top of another to fulfill all of the required functions. To make this more understandable, this course ends with the famous FedEx Analogy illustrating the concepts using company-to-company communications, and an analogy of Babushka dolls to illustrate how the protocol headers are nested at the bits level.
Next is Course 2211 Ethernet, LANs and VLANs – which could also be titled "Layer 2"
On completion of this course, you will be able to define the purpose and basic functioning of a LAN, what a broadcast domain is, explain Ethernet and the 802 standards from 10BASE-5 to 1000BASE-T and Gigabit Ethernet, MAC addresses, cable categories, bridging, how LAN switches work and what they do, VLANs, LAN jargon and buzzwords, and how LANs implement Layer 2 of the OSI model, moving data between two devices on the same circuit - or to be more precise, between two devices that are in the same broadcast domain.
As we will have established in the previous course, Layer 2 is all about communications between two devices that are on the same circuit, or more precisely, in the same broadcast domain. It turns out that this is implemented by moving frames with link addresses over physical connections following the 802 series of standards, colloquially referred to as Ethernet, MAC frames and MAC addresses.
We'll begin with the original LAN: Ethernet and its bus topology, defining "broadcast domain" and explaining its fundamental operation and characteristics: CSMA-CD access control, MAC addresses and MAC frames.
Then we'll cover the IEEE 802 standards and the evolution of Ethernet from 10BASE-T to Gig-E, LAN cables and the TIA-568 cable categories, basic cabling design; what "bridging" means and how a LAN switch works.
This course is completed with the important concept of VLANs: defining broadcast domains in software, a key part of basic network security practice.
Then Course 2213 IP Networks, Routers and Addresses – which could also be titled "Layer 3"
On completion of this course, you will be able to explain how IP packet networks implement Layer 3 of the OSI model, define bandwidth on demand and its advantages, what a router does, the basic structure of a routing table, where routers are located, define the IPv4 address structure and dotted-decimal notation, explain how both static and dynamic addresses are assigned using DHCP, what private addresses are and how they are interfaced to the public IP network, and the structure, allocation and assignment of IPv6 addresses.
This is a comprehensive course on Layer 3 of the OSI Model, concentrating on IP addresses, routers and packets. We begin with the two basic principles of packet networks: bandwidth on demand, also known as overbooking or statistical multiplexing; and packet-switching, also known as packet forwarding or routing.
We'll understand what routers do and where they are located, routing tables and the basic operation of a router and the standard strategy deploying an edge router between the LANs and the WAN at each location.
Then we'll cover IP version 4: address classes and how they are assigned to Regional Internet Registries then ISPs then end-users, dotted-decimal notation, static addresses, dynamic addresses and DHCP, public addresses, private addresses and NAT.
The course concludes with IPv6: the IPv6 packet and changes from IPv4, IPv6 address allocations and assignments and end up understanding how IPv6 subnets will be assigned to broadcast domains and 18 billion billion addresses per residence.
The last course in this certification package is Course 2214 MPLS and Carrier Networks
On completion of this course, you will be able to draw a model for a service provider's network, define the terms Customer Edge and Provider Edge, explain what a traffic profile is and how that relates to a Service Level Agreement, how Frame Relay got its name, what ATM is and why it is on the way out, the purpose, components, terminology and operation of MPLS, and how MPLS can be used to implement integration or convergence, aggregation and differentiated classes of service – what people mean when they say "MPLS service" and its pros and cons compared to Internet service.
This is an extensive and comprehensive course devoted to the structure, components and operation of carrier packet networks and services, how they are implemented, packaged and marketed, and how they are used by government, business and other carriers.
The IP packets and routing of the previous course is one part of the story. Performance guarantees, and methods for quality of service, traffic management, aggregation and integration is another big part of the story, particularly once we leave the lab and venture into the real world and the business of telecommunications services.
We'll begin by establishing a basic model for a customer obtaining service from a provider, defining Customer Edge, Provider Edge, access and core, and a Service Level Agreement: traffic profile vs. transmission characteristics.
Next, we'll understand virtual circuits, a powerful tool used for traffic management and variations like connection-oriented vs. connectionless communications and reliable vs. unreliable network services.
With the fundamentals in place, we will survey the different technologies used to implement this in practice: Frame Relay, ATM and MPLS, explaining the equipment, jargon and principles of operation, and the advantages each technology has over the previous. In particular, we'll understand the big advantage of MPLS over Frame Relay in the user-network interface.
Once we've covered all of the components of an MPLS network and its operation, we'll see how MPLS is used to implement Diff-Serv, i.e. different classes of service, how MPLS is used to implement integration or "convergence" of services onto a single network service, and how MPLS is used to aggregate traffic for management.
The course is completed with a lesson on "MPLS service", and how that compares to Internet service.
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About TCO Certification
Teracom is a Gold Training Partner of the Telecommunications Certification Organization, authorized to administer exams for TCO certifications on the myTeracom Learning Management System and award TCO Certifications.
TCO Certification is proof of your knowledge of telecom, datacom and networking fundamentals, jargon, buzzwords, technologies and solutions.
It's backed up with a Certificate suitable for framing - plus a personalized Letter of Reference / Letter of Introduction detailing the knowledge your TCO Certification represents and inviting the recipient to contact Teracom for verification.
You may list Teracom Training Institute as a reference on your résumé if desired.
Getting your Certificate

Each course has a course exam, consisting of ten multiple-choice questions chosen at random from a pool and shuffled in order. Passing the course exams proves your knowledge of these topics and results in your certification as a Certified Telecommunications Network Specialist.

Your Certificate and Letter of Reference / Letter of Introduction will be immediately available for download from your Dashboard in the myTeracom Learning Management System. You may also order a signed and sealed Certificate by airmail.
Choosing the "Unlimited Plan" at registration allows you to repeat courses and/or exams at no additional charge – which means guaranteed to pass if you're willing to learn.
Alternatively, if you like this discounted package of courses, but don't need the certification – or don't feel like writing exams – no problem! Take the Telecom, Datacom and Networking for Non-Engineers course package, which includes the same courses as the CTNS certification package, without the certification exams.
Benefits of Certification for Individuals

One benefit of TCO certification is differentiating yourself from the rest of the crowd when applying for a job or angling for a promotion.

The knowledge you gain taking Teracom's Online Courses, confirmed with TCO Certification, is foundational knowledge in telecommunications, IP, networking and wireless: fundamental concepts, mainstream technologies, jargon, buzzwords, and the underlying ideas - and how it all fits together.
This type of knowledge and preparation makes you an ideal candidate to hire or promote to a task, as you will be able to build on your knowledge base to quickly get up to speed and work on a particular project - then have the versatility to work on subsequent projects.
TCO Certification will help demonstrate you have this skill... a desirable thought to have in your potential manager's mind.
Benefits of Certification for Employers
Take advantage of these courses for individual learning, a team, or for an entire organization. The scalable myTeracom Learning Management System can register and manage all of your people through their courses, lessons and exams, and generate management reports showing progress and scores with the click of a button.
For larger organizations, the courses and exams can also be licensed and deployed on an organization's internal LMS.

Teracom certification packages are an extremely cost-effective way of implementing consistent, comprehensive telecommunications and networking technology fundamentals training, ensuring that both existing resources and new hires are up to the same speed, with a common vocabulary, framework and knowledge base.

The course exams provide concrete measurements of competency in key knowledge areas. Management can view the progress and results of all team members and export the results to Excel with the click of a button.
These reports identify skills deficiencies and strengths, and provide tangible proof of return on investment and team readiness for reports to upper management.
Based on Teracom's proven instructor-led training courses developed and refined over twenty years providing training for organizations including AT&T, Verizon, Bell Canada, Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, Qualcomm, the CIA, NSA, IRS, FAA, US Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force and hundreds of others, Teracom online courses are top-notch, top-quality and right up to date with the topics and knowledge you need.

Get started today to make this invaluable addition to your knowledge and skills!     


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