Why are UTP Patch Cords/ Patch Cables required in Structured Cabling?


We know that UTP Patch Cords/ Patch Cables are a part of the Structured Cabling standards in Computer Networking. But why are patch cords required at all? Can’t we just connect a Computer to a Network Switch using a single big Cat6 cable?

Before we address that question, let us look at the block diagram which explains how a UTP Patch Cord/ Patch Cable connects in the network.

Block Diagram for Patch Cord connectivity

As you can see in the above diagram which shows the connectivity between a Network Switch and a Computer/Server, they are not directly connected to each other. A Connection from the Computer Switch is made to a Patch Panel using a UTP Patch Cord. The Patch Panel at the Network Switch end connects to an I/O Box with faceplate at the Computer/Server end using a normal Cat6 UTP Copper Cable. The recommended length for this cable is 90 meters (max). From the I/O Box with faceplate, another UTP Patch Cord connects to the RJ-45/Network Port of a Computer/ Server.

We know that patch cords are an integral part of structured cabling. But why are they required at all? Can’t we just connect the network switch port with the computer using a single long cable? (Many people actually do it in smaller networks / home networks).

Here are some reasons why patch cords are required in a network:

Patch cords/ patch cables make adds, moves and changes easier and safer. Every time a computer is shifted from one department to another, one needs to plug in / plug off the network cables at both the computer end and network switch end. Frequent adds, moves and changes can introduce some malfunction. During those times, its easier (and safer) to just  remove the patch cords at either end and reconnect new devices as, even if some problems are introduced the patch cords are easier and cheaper to replace.

The bend radius of UTP cables keep changing every time you move them/ disconnect and reconnect them. This is not a recommended practice if one is looking for longevity in cable life as some errors can be introduced by changing the bending radius of a cable frequently. So, even if patch cords keep changing their bend radius, its easy and economical to replace them during connection faults.

Patch cords are factory crimped/ assembled and factory tested. So, one can expect the joint between patch cord cable and RJ-45 jacks to be more sturdy and last longer. Individual cables are often crimped manually using cabling tools by network vendors. Cables are not always crimped perfectly using manual methods.

Patch cords are often manufactured to have a longer flex life than normal cables. They are better suited for repeated plugging and unplugging (than full length copper UTP cables) as they are manufactured with rugged plug/cable union and snag resistant latches.

Some salient points you should know about Copper UTP/ STP Network Patch Cords:

  • Patch cords come in various lengths. The commonly used UTP patch cord lengths vary from 3 feet to 15 feet. But a few patch cords can be as big as 50 feet as well.
  • Patch cords are similar to normal UTP cables but are just shorter and come with factory crimped RJ-45 male jacks at both ends.
  • Patch cords have four pairs of twisted pair copper cables like normal UTP network cables and they are color coded – orange, green, brown, blue (each pair).
  • There are separate patch cords for shielded cables, unshielded cables, Cat 5E, Cat 6, Cat 6A and Cat 7 UTP/STP Cables. The patch cord should be of the same type as their UTP Cable counterparts.
  • Even if the patch cord is of a different type than the UTP Cable (Cat 5E – patch cord, Cat 6A – network cable, for example), they can work together but work with highest speeds supported by the lowest configuration (Cat 5E, in this case).
  • One needs to be careful with the thumb latch in a patch panel, because they could break while handling.
  • TIA standards recommend 90 meters of network cable length (max) and 10 meters of patch cords (both ends combined). So, total effective length of the entire stretch (including cables and patch cords) can be up to a maximum of 100 meters.
  • STP patch cords come with individually shielded pairs and an additional overall cable to reduce interference. They need to be used along with STP cables.
  • Bandwidth supported by patch cords are expressed in Mhz, like the UTP/STP Network Copper Cables. The bandwidth supported by patch cords should at least be equal to the bandwidth supported by the cable they connect to.

Have a look at the range of Network patch cords available at Amazon from here. You can even buy them from there, if you are from the United States.

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