Shielded or unshielded network cabling: which one should I be using?
Data cables are essential for transmitting information from one device to another. They are categorised by their level of performance or data throughput. Typically, Category 5e or Category 6 are used for 1 Gigabit networks, and Category 6A, Category 7 or 7A are used for 10 Gigabit networks.
These “categories” of cable exist with or without shielding, except Category 7 and 7A, which are only available with shielding. The correct terminology is U-UTP for Unshielded Cables, F-UTP (overall foil shield), F-FTP (foil around each pair as well as an overall shield), or S-FTP (foil around each pair as well as an overall braided metallic shield).
Basic comparison between shielded and unshielded cables
Electromagnetic (EMI) & Radio frequency (RFI) interference
Shielded cables reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI), while unshielded cables have limited protection from interference through the twisting of the pairs. Both EMI and RFI have the ability to corrupt the data being transmitted, causing slow network performance. Heavy machinery, radio or television broadcasting and electric motors are all things that can cause interference.
Area of usage/applications
You will find shielded cables in applications where signal integrity is crucial, such as medical equipment, aerospace, and military communication systems. On the other hand, unshielded cables are used in low-risk environments, such as commercial offices, data centres and home networks or other environments not subject to RFI or EMI. Therefore, one of the considerations when specifying shielded or unshielded cables will be the local environment in which the network will be installed.
Shielded cables consist of 4 pairs of conductors wrapped in a conductive shield and grounded to the earth. The shield protects the conductors from external EMI and RFI, reducing signal degradation and noise. The shielding can be around the individual pairs, the entire cable, or both. For added protection, a metallic braid is used similarly to coax to improve immunity.
On the other hand, unshielded cables come with 4 pairs of conductors not protected by shielding. So, as there is no shielding, unshielded cables are more susceptible to outside interference.
Shielded cables are generally more expensive than unshielded cables because they offer superior protection against interference. The more levels of protection, the higher the price you could expect to pay. Be sure to weigh up the cost benefit of choosing a shielded cabling solution.
So finally, we can say that you should consider several factors while choosing between shielded and unshielded cables. For example, shielded cables are typically used in environments with high levels of EMI and RFI, such as manufacturing facilities, radio or television broadcast, power plants, military communications, and hospitals. In contrast, unshielded cables are commonly used in residential and commercial buildings, with minimal interference risk.
Usually, both shielded and unshielded cables have their advantages and disadvantages. The choice between the two depends on the specific application requirements, the budget, and the level of interference present in the environment.
So, if you carefully consider the abovementioned factors, you will be able to select an appropriate network cabling system, resulting in many years of reliable data transmission and overall system performance.
For assistance selecting the right cabling system, reach out to our team on 1800 328 200.
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