Stranded vs. Solid Copper Ethernet Cables

When referring to stranded vs. solid cables, we are actually referring to the core material of the cable (copper) and how it is configured. Copper cabling is easier to use and more cost efficient than fiber cables. The wire thickness (gauge), insulation, fillers, shielding, drain wires and outer jacket material may also be a determining factor for proper cable selection.

Category 5e (CAT5e) and Category 6 (CAT6) network cables, whether they are classified as stranded or solid, both consist of four pairs of conductors. The difference is that a solid cable uses one solid wire per conductor, while a stranded cable uses multiple wires wrapped around each other per conductor.

For example, a stranded cable with a gauge of 7/32 means that there are 7 strands of 32-gauge wire per conductor. Solid cables are shown as the gauge of the wire for each conductor, i.e. 24 AWG. Wire gauges represent the thickness of the wire and the higher the number, the thinner the wire. These gauges are based on the number of times the wire has to be "drawn" or stretched to achieve the correct thickness. Therefore, the gauge is the number of times it was pulled.

Stranded Cable

Stranded cables are made of several smaller wires woven together and are suggested for crimp connectors. Patch cables are typically stranded cables and are excellent for applications that call for a flexible cable that also rolls up well. Use stranded patch cables for connecting workstation network interface cards (NICs) and outlets or between concentrators and patch panels, hubs and other rack-mounted equipment. Suggested for RJ45 plug terminations, stranded cable has a better and more flexible and complete connection than solid cable. Attenuation (signal reduction) is higher in stranded-conductor cable, so the total length of stranded cable in your system should be kept to a minimum to reduce signal degradation.

Stranded Conductors Are Preferred for:

  • Conductor flexibility: much greater in stranded conductors, making them easier to install.
  • Flex life: longer compared to solid conductors. Stranded conductors can endure more bending and vibration before breaking. Generally speaking, the finer the stranding, the more flexible the conductor.
  • Surface damage: Damage to stranded conductors, such as scratching or nicking, will be less serious than similar damage to solid conductors.
  • Strand count: affects both the flexibility and cost of a conductor. For any wire size, the more strands present, the more flexible and more expensive the conductor becomes.

Solid Cable

Solid cabling runs are usually a single run of wire and are best for wall jacks and horizontal runs. These solid-conductor cables designed for backbone cable runs should not be flexed, bent or twisted repeatedly. It’s suggested for runs between two wiring centers or from the wiring center to an outlet. Its attenuation is better than that of stranded-conductor cable, allowing for better performance over longer distances.

Solid conductor cables are ideal for structured wiring within a building. They can be easily punched down into wall jacks and patch panels as they consist of a single conductor. The wire seats properly into the insulation displacement connector (IDC).

Solid Conductors Are Preferred for:

  • Backbone cabling: Solid wiring is ideal for distributed backbone, namely straight-pinning for backbone runs and noisy CAT6 runs. This is perfect for inter-building and intra-building cable connections in structured cabling between entrance facilities, equipment rooms, remote workstations and telecommunications closets, as backbone cabling consists of the transmission media, main and intermediate cross-connects and terminations at these locations.
  • Outdoor or rugged-duty applications: Expose the wire to corrosive elements, adverse weather conditions or frequent movement. Stranded wire, conversely, serves a better purpose in intricate usages, such as electronic devices and circuit boards, where the wire will be protected but may undergo bending or twisting in order to connect electronic components.
  • Affordability: Solid cables are usually more affordable than stranded cables due to their cheaper production costs.
  • Durability: This type of wire is very resistant to damage and extremely simple to make. Single, thick strands of cable, are quite resistant to threats and very easy to produce. Solid cables also have a much more compact diameter compared to stranded cables.

Stranded Cable or Solid Cable, What Cable to Choose?

It's important to carefully consider what the best cable conductor is for your configuration, depending on your application requirements and installation features. Since attenuation is higher in stranded cables than in solid cables, stranded cable runs should be kept short to lower the chance of introducing even more attenuation into the system. It's best to keep lengths of stranded patch cables under 6.0 meters.

Stranded vs. Solid CablesSolid CableStranded Cable
Wire flexibility X
Corrosion protectionX 
Outdoor applicationsX 
Applications that subject the wire to repetitive motion X
Minimized proximity effect X
CosCost-effectiveness (in the right situation)X 

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