Shielded vs Unshielded Network Cable: Which Should You Use?

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Network cables are classified into sequentially numbered categories (e.g. Cat6, Cat7) according to different specifications. And these categories are how we can easily know what type of cable we need for specific transmission speed,Cat5e Ethernet cable supports up to 1000Mbps, while the latest category Cat8 Ethernet cable can be up to 25/40Gbps. But as for shieldedvs unshielded Ethernet cable, how to choose? To find this out, make sure you know the basic information and differences between the two types.

1.What is Twisted pair cable
Twisted pair cableis a type of wiring in which two conductors of a single circuit are twisted together for the purposes of improving electromagnetic compatibility. Compared to a single conductor or an untwisted balanced pair, a twisted pair reduces electromagnetic radiation from the pair and crosstalk between neighboring pairs and improves rejection of external electromagnetic interference.

For additional noise immunity, twisted-pair cabling may be shielded. Cable with shielding is known as shielded twisted pair (STP) and without as unshielded twisted pair (UTP).

2.Shielded vs Unshielded twisted pair Cable: Basic Information
A shielded cable or shieldtwisted pair(STP) cable has an outside layer or “shield” of conductive material around the internal conductors, which needs to be grounded to cancel the effect of electromagnetic interference (EMI). The conductive shield can reflect or conduct external interference away without affecting the signals of the internal conductor. Therefore, shielded Ethernet cables are usually used to protect signals from EMI over the length of the cable run, so as to result in faster transmission speeds and fewer data errors.

Unshielded means no additional shielding like meshes or aluminum foil are used. Because of this, unshielded Ethernet cables, also called unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cable are lighter and cheaper. These Ethernet cables are designed to cancel EMI with the way the pairs are twisted inside the cables. Compared with the shielded cables, unshielded cables provide much less protection. These cables performances are often degraded when EMI is present.

3.Details of Unshielded twisted pairCable
Unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cables are found in many Ethernet networks and telephone systems. For indoor telephone applications, UTP is often grouped into sets of 25 pairs according to a standard 25-pair color code originally developed by AT&T Corporation.

For urban outdoor telephone cables containing hundreds or thousands of pairs, the cable is divided into small but identical bundles. Each bundle consists of twisted pairs that have different twist rates, as pairs having the same twist rate within the cable can still experience some degree of crosstalk. The bundles are in turn twisted together to make up the cable.

UTP is also the most common cable used in computer networking. Modern Ethernet, the most common data networking standard, can use UTP cables, with increasing data rates requiring higher specification variants of the UTP cable. Twisted-pair cabling is often used in data networks for short and medium-length connections because of its relatively lower costs compared to optical fiber and coaxial cable.

4.Details of Shielded twisted pair Cable
Twisted pair cables may incorporate shielding in an attempt to prevent electromagnetic interference. Shielding provides an electrically conductive barrier to attenuate electromagnetic waves external to the shield. The shield also provides a conduction path by which induced currents can be circulated and returned to the source via ground reference connection. Such shielding can be applied to individual pairs or to a collection of pairs. Shielding may be foil or braided wire.

When shielding is applied to a collection of pairs, it is usually referred to as screening, but usage among vendors and authors in applying such words as screening, shielding, and STP (shielded twisted pair) can be subject to variability. ISO/IEC 11801:2002 attempts to internationally standardize the various designations for shielded cables by using combinations of three letters - U for unshielded, S for braided shielding (in outer layer only), and F for foil shielding - to explicitly indicate the type of screen for overall cable protection and for protecting individual pairs or quads, using a two-part abbreviation in the form of x/xTP.
Shielded Cat 5e, Cat 6/6A, and Cat 8/8.1 cables typically have F/UTP construction, while shielded Cat 7/7A and Cat 8.2 cables use S/FTP construction.
Because the shielding is conductive, it may also serve as a path to ground. A foil-shielded, twisted pair cable may have an integrally incorporated grounding wire called a drain wire which makes electrical contact with the shield. The purpose of the drain wire is for easy connection to terminals which are usually designed for connection of round wires.

5.Nomenclature of twisted pair Cable
Industry abbreviations ISO/IEC 11801designation[A] Cable shielding Pair shielding Illustration
UTP, TP U/UTP None None
FTP, STP, ScTP F/UTP Foil None
STP, ScTP S/UTP Braiding None
SFTP, S-FTP, STP SF/UTP Braiding and Foil None
STP, ScTP, PiMF U/FTP None Foil
SSTP, SFTP, STP SF/FTP Braiding and Foil Foil

6.Which Should I Choose?
As for shielded vs unshielded Ethernet cable, the best choice should largely depend on where you plan to install the cables. As mentioned above, STP and UTP cables are widely used in different fields due to EMI interference requirement. Airports, medical centres and factories often benefit from STP cabling, because these places need to process numerous machines that produce considerable amounts of interference. On the other hand, for home and office use, it’s wise to choose UTP cables.

Besides, the budget is another factor which may determine the final decision. It’s believed that STP cost much more than UTP since it can provide better protection from EMI. It’s true, but the gap is narrow. For instance, Cat6 Ethernet cable at FS, the Cat6 UTP of 10ft length costs 2.6 dollars while Cat6 shield cable with the same length needs 3.6 dollars, there is only a very small gap, which may be significant for large scale installations, but not for small networks.

Therefore, as for shielded vs unshielded network cable, it should be determined by the intended application. If you’re still not sure what type of cable you need,
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by Jessica

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