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A network adapter cable is a collection of wires or fiber optics that connects a wired network adapter to another network device. Different types of connectors, conductors and shielding can be used, depending on the type and speed of the connection. These factors also determine a network cable's maximum length. Network adapter cables are used to interconnect the network ports of computers, routers and network switches. They can also carry network connections for long distances between office cubicles, floors and buildings.
Most wire-based network cables contain twisted pairs of copper wire. Several factors affect the category rating of a network adapter cable—the wire grade, number of twists, and signal arrangement are all relevant. Level of shielding and connector type are also important. Each specific cable category dictates a certified maximum data speed and cable length. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) often defines frequently-used network cable categories.
A very common type of network adapter cable in the 2000s was Category 5 (CAT 5). It includes an 8-position 8-contact (8P8C) connector on each end and four twisted pairs of copper wire. The CAT 5 rating indicates a maximum data speed of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) at a maximum length of 328 feet. Category 7 (CAT 7) cable requires a TERA connector or a 12-line GigaGate 45 (GG45) connector. The maximum data speed for this type of cable is 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) at 328 feet.
A fiber optic network adapter cable is usually made of strands of plastic or glass optic fiber. The fiber is usually encased in plastic with sealed connectors to prevent outside light from interfering with the signals. Data is often transmitted over a fiber optic network cable using a low-power laser on a high-speed Fiber Channel network. For example, the typical data speed for a fiber optic cable is at least 40 Gbps in a cable over a mile (.6 kilometers) long. Even longer cables can carry data at reduced speeds, easily connecting distant buildings.
Some Gigabit Ethernet interfaces can use either a copper wire or a fiber optic network adapter cable. The adapter includes a special connector that mates with a gigabit interface converter. Several converters can be used with such an adapter, each designed for a particular cable type. Both fiber optic and twisted-pair copper wire cables can be used with the appropriate converter, for example. This gives Information Technology (IT) departments flexibility in wiring and altering their networks.