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Understanding Ethernet Cable Gauge (AWG)

All About AWG

When you have to put a network together, you’re going to compare a lot of different components to try to squeak out better performance without spending obscene amounts of money. Because of that, you’re likely to consider using Ethernet for many (if not all) parts of your network.

What you might not know is that Ethernet comes in different sizes. More specifically, you can get different thicknesses in your Ethernet cables, and that thickness actually matters a lot when it comes to cable functionality.

If you take a couple of minutes to learn about Ethernet cable thickness (often called gauge), then you can leverage these differences for a better network.

How Does Wire Gauge Impact Ethernet Cables?

Wire thickness is typically measured in gauge. The gauge is a number, and just like with shotgun shells and needles, larger numbers represent smaller diameters. So, an Ethernet cable with a high number (say, 28) is thinner than an Ethernet cable with a lower number (say 24).

This difference in thickness relates to the amount of copper used to form the wire itself. Less copper leads to thinner wire pairs, and that means that the shielding can be thinner too. So, when you change the gauge of the wire, you end up with significant impacts on how the cable functions. The most significant of those are listed below.

Flexibility

It’s easy to see why a thicker cable might be less flexible. The flexibility of thinner cables opens up options when it comes to very dense networks and patch panels. More flexible cables can connect in very short runs or through awkward positions, and it gives network designers a lot more freedom.

Length

On the other hand, thicker cables create less electrical resistance. That does two things. First, it produces less heat. Second, it reduces signal loss over the length of the cable.

To keep things very simple, thicker Ethernet cables can handle longer runs with less signal degradation. So, while thin cables open up options on a dense patch panel, thick cables allow Ethernet to cover more physical distance in a network.

This becomes even more true when you add PoE into the mix.

Heat

Lastly, we get to the issue of heat, which is more complicated than it might seem. Thicker cables produce less heat, but over short runs (one meter or less), the heat production difference between thick and thin Ethernet cables doesn’t add up to a whole lot.

Meanwhile, thinner cables are better for airflow — there’s just more room for air between the cables. With improved airflow comes better heat management. So, in a network closet or other extremely dense space, the thinner cables are actually better for heat management.

What Gauges Are Available?

Clearly, gauge matters when choosing Ethernet cables, but what options are there? For the most part, you can find Ethernet cables in three different sizes. Standard cables are typically either 24 or 26 AWG (American Wire Gauge). Meanwhile, you can get slim Ethernet that is 28 AWG.

Comparing the sizes, thin Ethernet has up to a 25 percent smaller diameter than standard Ethernet. We can put this in perspective with a simple comparison. Standard 24 AWG Ethernet can run normally at runs up to 90 meters in length. Meanwhile, 28 AWG Ethernet can only function well at distances up to 15 meters. That’s a stark change.

With even a basic understanding of Ethernet cable gauge, you can make informed decisions about which cables you purchase and why. You can take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of different cable gauges and produce a network that runs all the better for it.

Additional Learning Center Resources