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Ethernet is undeniably better than wireless connection when it comes to stability, reliability, and speed. However, you have to physically connect it to your device for it to work, which raises the question: What happens if your ethernet cable is too long?
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You will experience a drastic drop in signal transmission if your ethernet cable is too long. A few extra meters might work with a diminished data rate. If it gets too long, your data rate will drop, and it might even cause your entire network to go down.
You see, the internet travels through ethernet cables at 0.64 speed of light, or at least 192 meters (629 feet) per microsecond (1,000,000 microseconds is equal to 1 second).
So, you’d be right if you think that signals will weaken if your ethernet cable is too long. However, it’s not because it takes time for data to travel but because of how ethernet cables are designed.
Ethernet cables can transmit data at very high speeds over short distances. If the distance exceeds the specifications, the signals drop to the next lower data rate as the cable gets longer.
For example, a cat5e cable has a max data rate of 1Gbps. If it gets too long, the max data rate drops to 100Mbps. In many cases, when an ethernet cable fails at 1Gbps, it’ll also fail at 100Mbps, which brings down your max data rate to 10Mbps. This speed is too slow for networking by today’s standards.
Again, the slowdown—or network outage—is not because data travels further but because of the ethernet cable’s design. You can have the fastest internet connection, but it won’t matter as much if your ethernet cable is too long.
328 feet (100 meters) is the maximum length that you can use for an ethernet cable. This specification applies to almost every category in the market today, including:
However, some ethernet cables will allow faster data rates when using shorter cables. For example, cat6 cables have a max data rate of 1Gbps for 328 feet (100 meters).
If you use 121 feet (37 meters), you can reach a max data rate of 10Gbps — similar to cat6a’s max data rate. Cat7a is another example with a 40Gbps max data rate at 164 feet (50 meters), then drops to 10Gbps if you exceed that length.
Going back to the speed that the internet travels through the cables, the distance will hardly be an issue because data can travel through the entire length of an ethernet cable in about half a microsecond. The length of your ethernet cable will barely affect your internet’s latency.
328 feet (100 meters) may seem like a lot for networking, but it also includes the patch cables you’ll use on either end of the switch. So if you’re going to create a network within your house, consider using this length to maximize your data rate.
Now, there are some technicalities when it comes to the max length for ethernet cables. For example, 328 feet (100 meters) is not a hard limit. Your connection won’t immediately drop if you exceed by a few meters. It’s just a guide you should follow to get the most out of your ethernet cable.
Another factor that people need to pay attention to is that the 328 feet (100 meters) limit is per twisted-pair segment. It refers to the design we use for ethernet cables and will be essential if you want to create a network that requires very long wired connections.
Ethernet twisted pair cable refers to the design we use. It consists of four insulated copper wires with different colors twisted together to form the cable we use for wired internet connection. You can see those wires on either end of an ethernet cable through the RJ-45 connectors.
This design works well when transferring data through short distances. However, the max data rate for these cables can quickly drop when you exceed the recommended length. You either have to limit the length of your network or use a few tricks that will allow you to extend your ethernet cable.
Quick note: Throughout the remainder of this article, we will mention the “twisted-pair segment” several times. Always remember that one twisted-pair segment equals 328 feet (100 meters).
You can extend your ethernet for up to 5 twisted-pair segments. Remember, data signals can travel efficiently through the cable if you’re only using one twisted-pair segment. Anything longer than that and your signal will drop drastically.
However, that specification only applies if you use one cable with extra patch cables on either end. It doesn’t apply if you intentionally extend your ethernet cables using extenders, converters, or bridges.
There are a few tricks you can use to extend your ethernet cable. However, connecting up to 5 twisted-pair segments is the most straightforward method.
In most cases, you won’t have to set up anything. As long as you have the right repeaters, you can connect each segment, and it will work just like having a direct ethernet cable from end to end.
This trick uses the 5-4-3 rule in networking, which means that for a wired internet connection to maintain speed, stability, and reliability, you can use a maximum of 5 twisted-pair segments, 4 extenders/repeaters, and 3 populated nodes.
An ethernet repeater/extender is a small device that you use to connect 2 twisted-pair segments, like the Cudy POE10 Gigabit PoE Extender (available on Amazon.com). This device can amplify the signal, allowing the data to travel to another twisted-pair segment.
You can use up to 4 of these extenders to create a daisy chain of ethernet cables. However, some manufacturers might recommend using a max of 3 extenders.
So depending on the product that you’ll use, you can have a total of 4 or 5 twisted-pair segments. That’s a total of 1,312 feet (400 meters) to 1,640 feet (500 meters) of ethernet cable.
Now, a populated segment means more than one node is connected: One is connected to another repeater, while the other is connected to an ethernet hub or device.
If you have an extender like the CENTROPOWER POE+ Network Repeater (available on Amazon.com), you’ll be able to extend your connection for up to 5 segments using 2 of the 3 ports (PoE in and out). Aside from this, you can use the other ethernet port from 3 extenders to connect to other devices within the network.
Following the 5-4-3 networking rule, you’ll have so much flexibility regarding internet connectivity and be able to extend your ethernet cable for up to 1,640 feet (500 meters) without drastic drops in the max data rate.
However, 5 segments may not be enough for people trying to build long-distance networks, which brings us to the second way to extend an ethernet cable.
Media converters are a bit more complicated than repeaters because you’re using a device that converts ethernet to fiber, then back from fiber to ethernet.
Aside from this, it would be best to be careful when choosing one because there are far more types of media converters than repeaters, all of which have different features and specifications.
Unlike repeaters you only need to use for every twisted-pair segment, you cannot create a daisy chain of fiber-ethernet connections. Different manufacturers also have varying specifications for their converters, which may affect the length you can use.
Compared to ethernet cables that transmit analog and digital signals, fiber-optic cables (or fiber) use light signals. This feature allows fiber-optic cables to send data at a much faster speed and reach longer distances.
There are two types of fiber you can use: multimode and single-mode. A multimode fiber can reach up to 1804 feet (550 meters), while a single-mode fiber-optic cable can reach up to 37 miles (60 kilometers). Some converters can only transmit data through fiber for up to 12.4 miles (20 kilometers).
These differences in the type of fiber-optic cables, together with the difference in the distance that media converters can reach, can make it too complicated for a lot of people. However, this is one of the best options if you’re trying to build a network that requires more than 1,640 feet (500 meters) in length.
To build a long-distance network, you’ll need the following:
- Two media converters or fiber-ethernet converters like the TP-Link TL-FC311A-20 Media Converter (available on Amazon.com).
- A fiber-optic cable.
- Ethernet cables.
- A router.
- An ethernet hub (optional).
Here’s how you can set up your network:
- Connect the media converter to your router using an ethernet port to convert the signal from analog/digital to light.
- Use a fiber-optic cable to connect two media converters.
- Use the other ethernet port to convert the signal from light back to analog/digital.
- (Optional) If you want to connect multiple devices, you can connect the ethernet cable to a hub.
- Connect your device directly to the converter or the ethernet hub.
With this setup, you can extend your network for miles without a noticeable drop in speed. It may be a bit more complicated than connecting multiple ethernet cables, but it’s the best option if you want to have long-distance transmission.
Aside from the complexity, this option lacks flexibility. You can only establish a connection from end to end. Ethernet repeaters allow you to have up to 3 populated segments between the daisy chain to provide you with various connectivity options.
If you don’t want to deal with lengthy cables and still establish long-distance connections from your router to a device, you can use a wireless bridge like the TP-Link N300 Point-to-Point Wireless Bridge (available on Amazon.com). This device will allow you to establish a wireless connection between two points over a long distance.
Compared to the other two options we shared, establishing a wireless connection is a bit more complicated. There are a lot more factors you need to consider when setting up a wireless bridge, including:
- The type of bridge you’ll use for the connection
- The model or device that you’ll use as your bridge
- The location of the access points
- The distance between the master and slave unit
- The elevation of both units to ensure line-of-sight communication
Once you’ve figured out all these, you still need to configure both points to ensure that they work well together and that you’ll have a stable wireless bridge.
Configuring your units will depend on the model you’re using, as different manufacturers and models have varying methods for configuration. But regardless of the model you use, it’ll still have the same setup:
- Connect the router to the master unit via ethernet cable.
- Configure the master unit to connect to the slave unit via the wireless bridge.
- Connect the slave unit to your device or an ethernet hub.
What’s great about using a wireless bridge is you can extend your network and have better flexibility when connecting to it. Aside from this, you don’t have to worry about managing the cables, but you can still get stability and reliability comparable to a wired network connection.
Since a wireless bridge primarily relies on hardware instead of the cable’s design, the distance it can cover will depend on the manufacturer. TP-Link, for example, has a variety of wireless bridges you can use, and all of them have different distance capacities—from several hundred feet up to a few miles.
Building a network using one ethernet twisted-pair segment will provide you with the best speed, reliability, and stability. However, you can use many other options to extend your ethernet without compromising your max data rate.