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Twisted pair cabling is a type of wiring in which two conductors of a single circuit are twisted together for the purposes of canceling out electromagnetic interference (EMI) from external sources; for instance, electromagnetic radiation from unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cables, and crosstalk between neighboring pairs. It was invented by Alexander Graham Bell.
In balanced pair operation, the two wires carry equal and opposite signals and the destination detects the difference between the two. This is known as differential mode transmission. Noise sources introduce signals into the wires by coupling of electric or magnetic fields and tend to couple to both wires equally. The noise thus produces a common-mode signal which is canceled at the receiver when the difference signal is taken.
This method starts to fail when the noise source is close to the signal wires; the closer wire will couple with the noise more strongly and the common-mode rejection of the receiver will fail to eliminate it. This problem is especially apparent in telecommunication cables where pairs in the same cable lie next to each other for many miles. One pair can induce crosstalk in another and it is additive along the length of the cable. Twisting the pairs counters this effect as on each half twist the wire nearest to the noise-source is exchanged.
Providing the interfering source remains uniform, or nearly so, over the distance of a single twist, the induced noise will remain common-mode. Differential signaling also reduces electromagnetic radiation from the cable, along with the associated attenuation allowing for greater distance between exchanges.
The twist rate (also called pitch of the twist, usually defined in twists per meter) makes up part of the specification for a given type of cable. Where nearby pairs have equal twist rates, the same conductors of the different pairs may repeatedly lie next to each other, partially undoing the benefits of differential mode. For this reason it is commonly specified that, at least for cables containing small numbers of pairs, the twist rates must differ.
In contrast to FTP (foiled twisted pair) and STP (shielded twisted pair) cabling, UTP (unshielded twisted pair) cable is not surrounded by any shielding. It is the primary wire type for telephone usage and is very common for computer networking, especially as patch cables or temporary network connections due to the high flexibility of the cables.
The earliest telephones used telegraph lines, or open-wire single-wire earth return circuits. In the 1880s electric trams were installed in many cities, which induced noise into these circuits. Lawsuits being unavailing, the telephone companies converted to balanced circuits, which had the incidental benefit of reducing attenuation, hence increasing range.
As electrical power distribution became more commonplace, this measure proved inadequate. Two wires, strung on either side of cross bars on utility poles, shared the route with electrical power lines. Within a few years, the growing use of electricity again brought an increase of interference, so engineers devised a method called wire transposition, to cancel out the interference.
In wire transposition, the wires exchange position once every several poles. In this way, the two wires would receive similar EMI from power lines. This represented an early implementation of twisting, with a twist rate of about four twists per kilometre, or six per mile. Such open-wire balanced lines with periodic transpositions still survive today in some rural areas.
Twisted pair cables were invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1881. By 1900, the entire American telephone line network was either twisted pair or open wire with transposition to guard against interference. Today, most of the millions of kilometres of twisted pairs in the world are outdoor landlines, owned by telephone companies, used for voice service, and only handled or even seen by telephone workers.
UTP cables are found in many Ethernet networks and telephone systems. For indoor telephone applications, UTP is often grouped into sets of 25 pairs according to a standard 25-pair color code originally developed by AT&T Corporation. A typical subset of these colors (white/blue, blue/white, white/orange, orange/white) shows up in most UTP cables. The cables are typically made with copper wires measured at 22 or 24 American Wire Gauge (AWG), with the colored insulation typically made from an insulator such as polyethylene or FEP and the total package covered in a polyethylene jacket.
For urban outdoor telephone cables containing hundreds or thousands of pairs, the cable is divided into smaller but identical bundles. Each bundle consists of twisted pairs that have different twist rates. The bundles are in turn twisted together to make up the cable. Pairs having the same twist rate within the cable can still experience some degree of crosstalk. Wire pairs are selected carefully to minimize crosstalk within a large cable.
UTP cable is also the most common cable used in computer networking. Modern Ethernet, the most common data networking standard, can use UTP cables. Twisted pair cabling is often used in data networks for short and medium length connections because of its relatively lower costs compared to optical fiber and coaxial cable.
UTP is also finding increasing use in video applications, primarily in security cameras. Many cameras include a UTP output with screw terminals; UTP cable bandwidth has improved to match the baseband of television signals. As UTP is a balanced transmission line, a balun is needed to connect to unbalanced equipment, for example any using BNC connectors and designed for coaxial cable.
Twisted pair cables are often shielded in an attempt to prevent electromagnetic interference. Because the shielding is made of metal, it may also serve as a ground. Usually a shielded or a screened twisted pair cable has a special grounding wire added called a drain wire which is electrically connected to the shield or screen. The drain wire simplifies connection to ground at the connectors.
This shielding can be applied to individual pairs, or to the collection of pairs. When shielding is applied to the collection of pairs, this is referred to as screening. Shielding provides an electric conductive barrier to attenuate electromagnetic waves external to the shield and provides conduction path by which induced currents can be circulated and returned to the source, via ground reference connection.
Note that different vendors and authors use different terminology (i.e. STP has been used to denote both STP-A, S/STP and S/UTP). See below for the ISO/IEC attempt to internationally standardise the various designations.
Comparison of some old and new abbreviations, according to ISO/IEC 11801:
|Old name||New name||cable screening||pair shielding|
The code before the slash designates the shielding for the cable itself, while the code after the slash determines the shielding for the individual pairs:
|Level 1||0.4 MHz||Telephone and modem lines||Not described in EIA/TIA recommendations. Unsuitable for modern systems.|
|Level 2||4 MHz||Older terminal systems, e.g. IBM 3270||Not described in EIA/TIA recommendations. Unsuitable for modern systems.|
|Cat3||UTP||16 MHz||10BASE-T and 100BASE-T4 Ethernet||Described in EIA/TIA-568. Unsuitable for speeds above 16 Mbit/s. Now mainly for telephone cables|
|Cat4||UTP||20 MHz||16 Mbit/s Token Ring||Not commonly used|
|Cat5||UTP||100 MHz||100BASE-TX & 1000BASE-T Ethernet||Common in most current LANs|
|Cat5e||UTP||100 MHz||100BASE-TX & 1000BASE-T Ethernet||Enhanced Cat5. Same construction as Cat5, but with better testing standards.|
|Cat6||UTP||250 MHz||10GBASE-T Ethernet||Most commonly installed cable in Finland according to the 2002 standard. SFS-EN 50173-1|
|Cat6a||500 MHz||10GBASE-T Ethernet||ISO/IEC 11801:2002 Amendment 2.|
|Class F||S/FTP||600 MHz||Telephone, CCTV, 1000BASE-TX in the same cable. 10GBASE-T Ethernet.||Four pairs, S/FTP (shielded pairs, braid-screened cable). Development complete - ISO/IEC 11801 2nd Ed. Unofficially, Category 7 cable.|
|Class Fa||1000 MHz||Telephone, CATV, 1000BASE-TX in the same cable. 10GBASE-T Ethernet.||Four pairs, S/FTP (shielded pairs, braid-screened cable). Development complete - ISO/IEC 11801 2nd Ed. Am. 2. Unofficially, Category 7a cable.|
A solid core cable uses one solid wire per conductor and in a four pair cable there would be a total of eight solid wires. Stranded conductor uses multiple wires wrapped around each other in each conductor and in a four pair with seven strands per conductor cable, there would be a total of 56 wires (2 per pair x 4 pairs x 7 strands).
Solid core cable is supposed to be used for permanently installed runs. It is less flexible than stranded cable and is more prone to failure if repeatedly flexed. Stranded cable is used for fly leads at patch panel and for connections from wall-ports to end devices, as it resists cracking of the conductors.
Connectors need to be designed differently for solid core than for stranded. Use of a connector with the wrong cable type is likely to lead to unreliable cabling. Plugs designed for solid and stranded core are readily available, and some vendors even offer plugs designed for use with both types. The punch-down blocks on patch-panel and wall port jacks are designed for use with solid core cable.
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