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Patch Cables vs. Ethernet Cables

Even as networking gets faster and more complicated, Ethernet remains a common, reliable, effective way to enable digital communication. It’s a staple for a reason, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

If you’re trying to work out aspects of your own Ethernet network, you might run into a few terms. For instance, you might see cables listed as “patch cables.” What does that mean? Does it matter? How do you use such cables?

You’ll find all of these answers and more below.

What Is a Patch Cable?

A patch cable is a simple concept that applies to a wide range of technologies. It’s a cable that directly connects two devices (or ports) together. You can have patch cables for all kinds of things. Patch cables can connect a router to a switch. They can connect an amplifier to a sound mixer. They can even connect fiber optic devices.

The term can apply to any type of cable. It’s a patch cable when it directly connects two devices. On top of that, patch cables are typically short (3 meters or less).

What Is an Ethernet Cable?

Meanwhile, “Ethernet” describes something else entirely. Ethernet is a type of cable and communication that allows devices to send digital signals across copper wires. Ethernet is a standardized technology that can be broken into a number of categories: Cat 5, Cat 6, Cat 7, and Cat 8.

Most applications will use Cat 5 or Cat 6 (both of which have subcategories), but advanced applications do use Cat 8 and other options.

Regardless of all of that, each type of Ethernet still uses a copper wire setup, RJ45 connectors, and standardized signals that universally work with Ethernet-enabled devices.

Patch Cable vs Ethernet

Considering all of that, what is an Ethernet patch cable? It’s an Ethernet cable that is used to patch two devices together. You find these most commonly in networking closets, where a handful of switches, routers, and other devices will connect directly to one another using Ethernet patch cables.

Since a patch cable can be an Ethernet cable, and an Ethernet cable can be a patch cable, is there any real difference between the two?

Yes and no.

The important thing to remember is that Ethernet and patch are descriptors that don’t overlap very much. Whether or not a cable is used for patching has nothing to do with the type of signal running through it. Likewise, the type of signal in the cable doesn’t determine whether it is used for patching or not.

So, you can have patch cables that are not Ethernet cables, and you can have Ethernet cables that are not patch cables, but you can also find Ethernet patch cables.

But, if you’re trying to connect two Ethernet devices, it doesn’t matter if you use patch cables or not. The signal is the same regardless of how long the cable is. All that matters is that your cables are compatible and do not exceed the maximum functional distance for the type of Ethernet you are using.

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