An Ethernet connection is a popular option among internet users due to its advantages over wireless internet.
Almost any device that connects to the internet has Ethernet jacks, allowing for high-speed internet connections.
However, you can find other jacks on these devices that look very similar to the Ethernet jack, making them confusing to identify.
One of these jacks is the phone jack that you may find on modems, routers, or wall panels.
This article helps you tell phone jacks from Ethernet ports.
Ethernet Vs. Phone Jack (What’s The Difference?)
Both are rectangular, with some pins making contact with the corresponding pins on the cable’s head and creating the connection.
However, an Ethernet jack is bigger and wider than a phone port.
You can count the number of pins inside the jack to determine what type it is.
An Ethernet jack has eight pins, while a phone port has four or six pins.
Since a phone jack is also smaller than an Ethernet port, you can’t plug an Ethernet cable into a phone jack because it won’t fit.
Where Can You Find Ethernet Jacks?
Anyone who uses the internet has seen Ethernet ports on different devices.
You can see these ports on the following devices:
- Laptop and desktop computers.
- Gaming consoles.
- Modems and routers.
- Ethernet switches.
- Wi-Fi range extenders,
- Wireless Access Points.
- CCTV cameras.
- Smart TVs.
- Media converters.
- Streaming devices.
- Fax machines and many more.
Many of these devices don’t have phone lines, so you don’t need to worry about getting the jack wrong.
Computers have Ethernet cards on the motherboard, working as an internal network adapter.
The jack is connected to the Ethernet card on the motherboard, allowing for a wired connection when you plug in the Ethernet cable.
As soon as you plug the cable into the Ethernet jack, the device configures itself to use the wired connection.
You can’t find an Ethernet jack on a MacBook Air, but it allows you to set up a wired connection via an Ethernet dongle attached to the Mac’s USB port.
Ethernet ports also have different speeds, including 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps, 1,000 Mbps, and 10 Gbps.
You can also find Ethernet ports on the walls in newer houses.
They run wires internally to reach a central box that houses a router or an Ethernet switch.
These wall outlets allow for higher internet speeds and lower signal interference.
Despite all the advantages of Ethernet connectivity, it has a significant disadvantage.
Ethernet jacks are subject to failure due to wear and tear.
You may break the jack if you’re not careful while plugging in the Ethernet cable.
In such cases, you must replace the jack or the entire motherboard.
That’s why you can find multiple Ethernet ports on a single motherboard, each featuring different transfer speeds.
This way, you don’t need to worry about compatibility issues and can connect many devices to your computer at different speeds.
In addition, if a port fails, you can use another one.
This feature is essential because you can’t connect to the internet if you don’t have a working Ethernet jack.
How Does Ethernet Work?
When you connect your devices to the internet, you can use wired or wireless connections depending on your preferences and conditions.
For example, if you move your device to different parts of the house or office, you must use a wireless connection, such as Wi-Fi.
However, if you don’t move the device and want a more stable connection, an Ethernet cable is the way to go.
That said, Ethernet cables and ports aren’t only for internet connections.
You can connect several computers via an Ethernet cable to create a local area network (LAN) and share data.
It offers faster and more reliable connection and data transfer, making it the preferred choice over wireless connections in many cases.
Although the technology is more than 50 years old, it’s still popular among internet and network users since it works seamlessly with modern technologies.
You can connect different devices, including wired and wireless, routers, hubs, switches, etc., to transfer data.
Its most common usage is in internet connections, hooking up a router or modem to another device that receives the internet connection.
Its flexibility and ease of use have turned it into a ubiquitous option in most organizations, private places, and even in applications that require high bandwidth usage, such as video streaming.
That’s why you see Ethernet jacks on many devices, including laptops and routers, and many buildings have Ethernet sockets built into their walls.
Ethernet Vs. Wi-Fi
Ethernet has many advantages over Wi-Fi connections, the most significant being higher speeds.
When you use a Wi-Fi connection, you have to share it between different devices, dividing the bandwidth among all these devices.
However, that’s not the case with an Ethernet connection.
Thanks to full-duplex connection capabilities in modern Ethernet switches, you can use the connection with several devices simultaneously.
It keeps the full maximum bandwidth in each device without interference or packet collisions.
In addition, distance can affect Wi-Fi signals, so the farther you get from the modem or router, the weaker the signal will get.
However, with Ethernet connections, you can have a consistent internet speed anywhere you go, although Ethernet cables have length limitations to allow optimum results.
All these features make Ethernet connections a preferred choice for wired devices.
The only downside of Ethernet is lower convenience since Wi-Fi-connected devices are portable, and home users prefer portability.
To identify the right Ethernet jack, you need to know which cables are Ethernet and which ones are phone types.
This way, you can easily plug the cable into the port and identify it.
1. Ethernet Cables Structures
Since Ethernet is a simple concept that lends itself to a wide range of applications and devices, it also requires simple means of data transmission.
However, it hasn’t always been the case.
Initially, Ethernet worked with coaxial cables, which use thick copper wires, making it robust and wide enough to carry considerable bandwidth.
However, since coaxial cables aren’t that straightforward and can be heavy, the Ethernet protocol ditched it and switched to twisted pair cables.
As the name suggests, twisted pair cables involve pairs of wires twisted together to eliminate noise and increase speed.
These cables are flexible and easy to use, thanks to their standardized plugs.
That’s where the similarity and confusion with phone cables came from.
However, these two cables are different, although both look similar and are used to transfer data.
2. Ethernet Cables Vs. Phone Cables
As mentioned, the only similarity between phone and Ethernet cables is that they look similar and transfer data.
However, they have different forms and functions.
Here are the primary differences between these two cables:
A. Ethernet Cables And Phone Cables Look Different
Ethernet and phone cables look similar in that both have connectors at their ends that go into the port when the plastic clip is pressed down.
However, you can see many differences between them if you look closely.
The biggest difference is that Ethernet cables have eight wires arranged in twisted pairs, while a phone cable has half of that.
As a result, phone cables are flat and thinner, while Ethernet cables are rounder, thicker, and with bigger connectors.
These connectors use different standards, with the telephone cables featuring RJ11 or RJ12 connectors since they have only four wires.
You can also see these connectors specified as #P#C.
P stands for pins inside the connector, and C stands for Contacts.
For example, the RJ11 is also called 6P4C, meaning this connector type has six metal pins, but four of them are connected to the wires.
Similarly, the RJ12 connector is 6P6C, meaning all connectors and wires are connected.
However, Ethernet cables use the RJ45 connector as they have eight wires.
If you look closely at the gold pins on the connectors, you can see the differences more clearly.
The Ethernet connector has eight gold wires, while it’s only four or six gold wires for the telephone cable, depending on the connector type.
Both cables come in various colors to help you distinguish them from other cables or color coordinate them in your networks.
Now, if you have a socket in your home or a jack on your device and don’t know whether it’s a phone jack or an Ethernet jack, you can look at the contacts inside the jack.
A phone jack has six or four contacts, while the Ethernet jack must have eight connectors.
As a result, the Ethernet jack is bigger and deeper than the phone socket.
If it’s difficult to count the number of contacts inside the jack, you can try plugging a cable that you know is either phone or Ethernet into the jack.
If you put a phone cable into an Ethernet socket, it won’t fit as the Ethernet socket is bigger than the phone cable connector.
However, if you connect an Ethernet cable to the socket and it fits, you can be sure that the socket is an Ethernet type.
B. Ethernet Cables Are Faster
The number of wires inside an Ethernet cable affects its bandwidth and transmission speed.
Since the telephone cable has four twisted pair wires, its transmission speed is lower than an Ethernet cable.
Although you can use both cables for short distances, the Ethernet cable covers longer distances thanks to its higher speed.
As a result, an Ethernet cable is a better option for internet connectivity, while a telephone cable is preferred for phone connections.
You can connect all devices in different locations inside a house using an Ethernet cable.
That’s not possible with a telephone cord since it has a lower speed, which is between 1 to 2 Mbps, while it’s a maximum of 10 Gbps for an Ethernet cable.
Can You Use A Phone Cable Instead Of An Ethernet Cable?
You may think that phone cables can only be used for transferring voice signals, as in phone conversations.
However, you can also send internet data via phone cables because the protocols aren’t different.
You can use phone cables to connect to the internet.
That’s why you can see modems and DSL connections using phone cables to connect to the wall socket.
You may wonder if you can use a phone line instead of an Ethernet cable even though the connection is slower and less reliable.
The short answer is no.
As mentioned earlier, phone and Ethernet cables use different connectors and wire types.
Therefore, they need their specific sockets with the same number of contacts.
Since the Ethernet cable has eight gold wires, it needs eight connectors inside the socket to create a perfect connection.
In addition, the connections and plugs are also different in size, with Ethernet connectors being larger than phone connectors.
As a result, they won’t fit into each other’s sockets inside the wall or on a modem.
However, you can use dual-purpose sockets with phone and Ethernet connectors inside the same port or socket.
In these cases, your wiring should support both wire arrangements.
Ethernet Cable Types
Ethernet cables have come a long way since their introduction over 50 years ago.
Although they’re not the coax type anymore, the modern wiring structures within the cord can vary widely.
However, the standard structure is the twisted pair cable, which eliminates cross-over and noise and improves reliability.
However, that’s not the only variety across Ethernet cables.
Knowing these differences can help you decide which Ethernet cables are better for your purposes.
1. Shielded Vs. Unshielded
Twisted pair cables are shielded or unshielded.
Shielded cables (STP) have a shield made of foil or braid around the twisted pairs, making them more resistant to crosstalk and interference.
Since the shielding is made of conductive materials, the signals and connectivity are much stronger than unshielded types.
On the other hand, unshielded cables don’t have these wire covers.
Although they’re cheaper than the STP, they’re more prone to interference and noise.
2. Solid Vs. Stranded
Ethernet cables can come in two different types regarding their internal wiring.
If the wires are in the form of several wires next to each other, it’s stranded.
On the other hand, the solid cable contains one thick wire running through the cable.
Solid cords are more robust and feature less signal loss, while stranded wires have tiny spaces between the wires, making them vulnerable to signal loss.
In addition, solid cables are more rigid and resistant to wear, making them suitable for businesses and outdoor applications.
However, stranded cords are more flexible and better for home use, especially if you want to run them around corners.
If you’ve ever shopped for Ethernet cables, you must have seen them labeled Cat6 or Cat5.
These labels refer to the categories of these cables, showing the cable’s variation.
Although we have Cat1 to Cat4 cable types, the Ethernet cable types start from Cat5.
Cat1 isn’t suitable for data transmission since it’s only made for telephone communications.
Cat2, Cat3, and Cat4 cables are suitable for data transmission but have low maximum speed.
Most of the older telephone lines have Cat3 cables, which can also be used for Ethernet connections with a maximum speed of 10 Mbps.
Cat4 cables have the highest speed among these four types, with a maximum data transfer speed of 16 Mbps.
Cat5 is the most basic and popular Ethernet cable with a maximum bandwidth of 100 MHz.
You can use it for 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, and 1000BASE-T Ethernet standards.
It has four twisted pairs of unshielded copper wires, which also have shielded variations.
Cat5 cables have a maximum speed of 100 Mbps but can reach 2.5 GB at shorter distances.
It has a newer variation, Cat5e, which was introduced in 2001.
It’s an enhanced variation of Cat5 (hence the e), which has a maximum transfer speed of 1000 Mbps at 350 MHz.
Both cable categories offer high-speed data transfer for home and business purposes, although you won’t see much difference in speed between the two in home applications.
Cat5e offers great enhancements to Cat5, making it a great alternative for networking purposes.
It has lower crosstalk, higher signal-to-noise ratio, lower delay error, and better performance overall.
However, you can’t use Cat5 or Cat5e for a telephone line because they’re only for high-speed networking.
Technically speaking, Cat5 and Cat6 have the same structure.
However, Cat6 Ethernet cables feature major improvements, making them highly resistant to interference and crosstalk.
They support 10Gigabit Ethernet and run at 250 MHz, making them suitable for high-speed projects.
The reduced crosstalk comes from an added feature inside the cable, separating the twisted pairs using an internal separator.
And since it has a higher speed, it comes with a higher maximum allowed length, which is 100 meters (328’) for 10/100/1000 Mbps BASE-T and 55 meters for 10GBASE-T.
The wires are also thinner than Cat5, further reducing the signal-to-noise ratio.
However, the wires are stiffer, so you may have difficulty running them around a place with corners.
The improved version of the Cat6 cable is Cat6a, doubling the bandwidth and increasing the transfer speed.
The twisted pair also differs from Cat6, with tighter twists and more insulation, leading to much lower crosstalk.
Since the wires are highly twisted, they take up less room inside the cable, making it 10% slimmer than the Cat6.
Cat7 Ethernet cables may not be the right choice for most home and business purposes because TIA/EIA does not approve them.
Most importantly, they don’t use the RJ-45 connector, making it unfitting for most Ethernet jacks.
Instead, they use the GG45 connector, a proprietary type that isn’t widely available on the market.
In addition, the improvements it offers over Cat6a aren’t significant, meaning it’s not worth the hassle to change your jacks.
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