When ask­ing what the dif­fer­ence is between Eth­er­net and coax, there is no one answer as this ques­tion has some lay­ers to it. Eth­er­net is a method of net­work com­mu­ni­ca­tion that can be car­ried by many dif­fer­ent cables, includ­ing coax­i­al cables.

In mod­ern slang, though, “Eth­er­net cables” refer to twist­ed pair cables, usu­al­ly used to net­work devices togeth­er, while coax­i­al cables refer to high-fre­quen­cy shield­ed cables, and are used to con­nect rooms or build­ings.

What is Eth­er­net?

Com­mer­cial­ly intro­duced in 1980, Eth­er­net is a net­work­ing tech­nol­o­gy that divides data into pack­ets called “frames.” Each frame con­tains actu­al data, meta­da­ta about the sender and receiv­er, and back­up data to check for errors. A device that receives a data checks to see if it is from an appro­pri­ate sender, ver­i­fies that noth­ing has been cor­rupt­ed, and then adds it to pre­vi­ous­ly decod­ed frames to pro­duce a con­stant stream. Eth­er­net is nor­mal­ly used in local area net­works (LANs) and met­ro­pol­i­tan area net­works (MANs). LANs are net­works that link devices with­in a build­ing or group of neigh­bour­ing build­ings while MANs is a net­work that is designed to link an entire city.

Eth­er­net con­tin­ues to be the tech­nol­o­gy of choice when it comes to link­ing local area net­works because of its com­pat­i­bil­i­ty and reli­a­bil­i­ty with net­work­ing pro­to­cols. This has a lot of advan­tages over oth­er net­work­ing meth­ods. Even if the cable is not per­fect­ly shield­ed, the abil­i­ty to ver­i­fy frames pre­vents any one bad pack­et of data from cor­rupt­ing the whole stream. From a secu­ri­ty point of view, it is dif­fi­cult to tap into data that’s marked for a spe­cif­ic receiv­er.

Eth­er­net has been pre­vi­ous­ly used with coax­i­al cables but has become so advanced that heav­i­ly shield­ed cables are no longer need­ed. Instead, it usu­al­ly uses twist­ed pair cables.

What are Eth­er­net cables used for?

These cables are used on wired net­works to con­nect devices like PCs, routers and switch­es to LANs. There are dif­fer­ent types of Eth­er­net cables, the most com­mon­ly used being the Cat­e­go­ry 5 (CAT5) and the Cat­e­go­ry 6 (CAT6). Gen­er­al­ly, Eth­er­net cables are made to con­nect only one device but you can also use a crossover cable which is a spe­cial Eth­er­net cable designed to con­nect two com­put­ers to each oth­er.

Eth­er­net cables are made in two forms. First, the sol­id form which offers bet­ter per­for­mance and improved pro­tec­tion from elec­tri­cal inter­fer­ence. This type of Eth­er­net cable is more com­mon­ly found in busi­ness net­works where wiring is inside office walls or under lab floors teth­ered to fixed loca­tions. The sec­ond form of Eth­er­net cable is the strand­ed type. Strand­ed cables are less like­ly to incur dam­age such as cracks and breaks. They are typ­i­cal­ly used by trav­ellers or in a home net­work­ing sit­u­a­tion.

Twist­ed pair cables are, as you guessed, a pair twist­ed togeth­er, like a DNA dou­ble helix. This twist cre­ates a sit­u­a­tion where the fields pro­duced by the cables large­ly can­cel each oth­er out. For Inter­net use, busi­ness­es use Cat­e­go­ry 6 cables that can reach for about 175 feet before the inter­fer­ence becomes too severe. 175 feet is more than enough for most small busi­ness­es, so peo­ple opt to just use twist­ed pair cables to build a net­work.

With a large office build­ing, coax­i­al cables are more use­ful.

Ethernet cable & Coaxial cable

Coax­i­al Cables

Coax­i­al Cables use one cable as a wrap­around shield that pro­tects the oth­er. Coax cables are high­ly shield­ed and can car­ry a sig­nal for huge dis­tances. Large office build­ings use these cables to link up a large floor, or mul­ti­ple-floor, net­works.

Coax­i­al cables con­tain an inner con­duc­tor that is encased by a tubu­lar insu­lat­ing lay­er, fenced by a tubu­lar con­duct­ing shield. The name “coax” refers to the fact that these two lay­ers, the out­er sheath and the con­duc­tor beneath it, share a geo­met­ric axis. Coax­i­al cables have actu­al­ly been in exis­tence since the 1880s when math­e­mati­cian and engi­neer Oliv­er Heav­i­side patent­ed their design.

What’s the dif­fer­ence between coax and oth­er shield­ed cables?

The dimen­sions of coax cables are con­trolled unlike with oth­er shield­ed cables. By con­trol­ling the cable’s dimen­sions, you get pre­cise and con­stant con­duc­tor spac­ing. This is very impor­tant to cre­ate effec­tive func­tion­al­i­ty when car­ry­ing low­er-fre­quen­cy trans­mis­sion sig­nals.

What are coax­i­al cables used for?

Gen­er­al­ly, coax cables are used for audio and visu­al func­tions. In mod­ern homes, you will find at least one coax out­let in each room. Cable com­pa­nies usu­al­ly use coax­i­al cables to con­nect a sig­nal direct­ly from the wall out­let to your tele­vi­sion or cable box. Back in the day, coax cables were used to attach anten­nas to TVs or dig­i­tal con­vert­er box­es. They were also used to con­nect VCRs to a TV, but who has one of those any­more?

Coax­i­al cables are prici­er, unfor­tu­nate­ly, run­ning you between 75 cents and per foot, com­pared to the 15–50 cents for a twist­ed pair cable. This adds up in a large oper­a­tion but is often unavoid­able.

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Allan Baum
Security Industry veteran with over 30+ years in the industry. Founded family owned and operated Protection Plus in 1994 with his wife and has overseen its growth since. In addition to working with his wife and son, Allan has assigned the role of Chief Canine Officer to his trusted dog Waub, who joins him at the office every day.