UTP Exposed: The Basics of Unshielded Twisted Pair Cabling


UTP is one of those acronyms that doesn’t get tossed around in conversation much unless you happen to be chatting about some aspect of telecommunications. There are actually many designations attached to these three letters; however, it is mostly used in reference to network cabling. Here at BTS, that’s something we talk a lot about.

UTP stands for ‘unshielded twisted pair’, a common type of cable that is comprised of eight plastic-covered wires twisted together to make up four separate wire pairs. The pairs are then surrounded by an outer jacket made of plastic. Unlike other types of cable that have a braided metal or foil shielding just underneath the jacket, UTP does not– thus lending to the term ‘unshielded’.

Because of the lack of shielding, this type of cabling does not offer as high a bandwidth or protection from interference as other types of cable, i.e., fiber optic. However, the benefit of unshielded twisted pair is that it is cost-effective, light-weight and extremely easy to work with. Unshielded twisted pair is also preferred because of its compatibility which cuts down on the time it takes to install a network.

UTP cables come in different classes– or categories– that are most commonly referred to as ‘cat 3’, ‘cat 5’ and ‘cat 6’, with category 5 being the industry standard for use in cabling local area networks (or LANs). Category numbers are defined by the amount of twists per foot in the pair. The more twists per foot there are in the pair, the better the category will protect from electromagnetic interference.

Did you know that the first unshielded twisted pair cables were used all the way back in the 1880’s by Alexander Graham Bell when he was developing his telephone systems? And here we are 130 years later still using UTP cabling to now connect networks that transmit data at the speed of light!

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