Cables, cables, cables. There are a few dozen types out there, some of which might be known to the average consumer while others are more obscure. While we don’t necessarily need to know exactly what these cables do or what they’re used for, it can come in handy to have a basic idea. And if you’re going to set up a business that involves networks, it pays to know more about them.
There are ethernet cables, fiber optics, and more. One of the many cables that you’re going to want to understand is the patch cable. If you do any modern networking at all, you’re probably going to learn a lot about these things. We’ll be covering the basics for you today.
“Patch cable” is a general term, referring to any cable that allows two electronic devices to communicate. Usually, that will be through a network setup and can be used to carry transmissions of various types. They see use in sending or carrying things like telephone, video, and audio signals, along with non-networked applications. Equipment like microphones and headphones are also considered patch cables.
Patch cables might also be called “patch leads,” though “patch cord” is also a possible term. However, the latter term is more likely to see use in a non-network context. For instance, patch cords show up in the wiring for stereo components and other large sound equipment.
Various Types of Patch Cables
Patch cables come in various types. The most common you’ll see would be CAT5/CAT5e ethernet cables, used for connecting computer systems in a nearby network hub. They might also be linked together using switches, routers, or switches connected to a router. These are going to be useful in building a home network, but sometimes travelers use them to connect to hard-wired connections in hotels.
Another type of patch cable is a specific Ethernet patch. Once again, this is used to bridge a connection. In this particular case, the purpose is to allow for the connection of two computers, something that other cables aren’t capable of doing.
As we mentioned, there are patch cables that aren’t necessarily for computer systems. These include headphone and microphone cables, RCA connectors, TRS phone cables, XLR connections, panel cables, and more. There are also thicker “snake cables,” which are useful for transmitting amplified video signals.
The Appearance of Patch Cables
The appearance of patch cables varies based on type. They can come in multiple colors, though the length is usually shorter because they’re a “patch” that links two devices together. This is over short distances, often two meters or shorter. In some extreme cases, they’re not much longer than a single finger.
Longer patch cables tend to be thicker, while shorter ones are the reverse. These also have shielding in place, meant to prevent electromagnetic interference that can cause the loss of signal strength.
Patch cable construction varies. Some of them are coaxial, like the ones you’ll see used for cable television feeds. However, others are fiber optic or CAT5/5e/6/6A. There are cables that are single-conductor wires. They might come unshielded as well, though shielded is typical for cables that need greater length.
One thing to remember is that patch cables are different from other types. They are more flexible, rather than stiff and bulky copper ones. They also have connectors on both ends. These are the physical differences that keep them distinct in appearance.
Patch cables always connect to things, so there would be connectors on either end of the cable. This is part of why they’re patches; they’re not meant as permanent solutions like pigtail cables. They lack the exposed wires on one end that is meant to form a direct and permanent link to a terminal, jack, or another device.
Both ends of a patch cable would follow the same wiring standards, such as T-568A or T-568B. Both will have a wire arrangement that has the same patch cable colors. This makes their use simple. Pin 1 goes to connector A goes to pin 1 on connector B, and so on.
Crossover vs Patch
Now, someone might be wondering what the difference is between a patch cable and a crossover cable. For that matter, when do you use one over the other?
A crossover cable is meant to connect two devices of the same type, such as for switch to switch or PC to PC. A patch cable is one that works for two different types of devices, such as a PC and a smartphone. In the simplest terms, you want to use a crossover cable to connect two of the same type, while patch tables are two different devices.
Patch cables are just one of the many types of cables out there that connect things. We use them every day, but we don’t always recognize them for what they are. We might even take them for granted as just another part of how things work in the modern world. As you can see, there are multiple types of patch cables that see use in a number of possible contexts.