What are the Main Types of Cables Used in Communication Systems

The modern world is connected through a series of network cables. With E-commerce accounting for 13% of all transactions and roughly 2.4 billion phone calls made in the United States each day, it is hard to imagine a world without these vital connections. While there are billions of communication lines in operation today, only a few types of cables account for the majority. 

The United States government was the first large organization to put fiber optic cables to use in 1975 when they linked a network of computers together at the NORAD headquarters. In the same decade, telephone companies began utilizing fiber optic networks to expand and optimize their services. Their use continued to grow through the 1980s and '90s until most of the world's long-distance data traffic was done through fiber optic cables.

Fiber optic cables are made up of bundled glass threads that are capable of transmitting messages using light waves. Fiber optic cables are further divided into two main categories, those being multimode and single-mode. Both groups contain an outer casing that traps light in the central core of the line. These casings must have high tensile strength and must be resistant to the elements of the environment in which they are used. Multimode cables cost less to produce and install but are only suited for applications in which the distance of the line is 2km or less. They are commonly found in data centers, local area networks, and storage area networks. Single-mode fiber optic cables present a higher cost than their counterparts and require much more labor on average to install. These lines can be stretched upwards of 60km and are commonly used for wide area networks, metropolitan area networks, and telecommunication access networks.

Twisted pair cables are one of the oldest types of network cable still in use today. Created by Alexander Graham Bell in 1881, twisted pair cables dominated the American telephone network for over 100 years. This wiring connects home and business computers to the cable company and is made by twisting two separate insulated wires together. The benefit of twisting the cables is that the method helps reduce electromagnetic induction between the pairs of wires, leading to higher performance. Modern twisted cables come in two different varieties, shielded twisted pair (STP) and unshielded twisted pair (UTP). STPs are regularly found in local area networks, while UTP cables are found almost exclusively in Ethernet networks. Some common UTPs include cat5e, cat6a, and cat7 cables.

First invented in 1880, the coaxial or coax cable has been transmitting radio frequency (RF) signals for over a century. Coax cables have a central copper conductor covered by a foam insulator, conducting shield, and plastic sheath. This rugged design allows these cables to be installed alongside metal objects without loss of power. While more expensive on average than twisted pair cables, coaxial lines provide 80 times the transmission capability. They are routinely used today for professional networks at businesses and universities due to their superior data transfer capability.


February 12, 2021

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