Category 5e (CAT5e) and Category 6 (CAT6) network cables come in stranded conductor and solid conductor formats. People often ask which conductor is appropriate for their application. We'll detail the difference and help you decide which cable to choose for your application.
What is the difference between Stranded and Solid Wire?
Category 5e (CAT5e) and Category 6 (CAT6) network cables come in stranded conductor and solid conductor formats. A solid conductor uses one solid wire per conductor, meaning, in a standard CAT5e / CAT6 4-pair (8-conductor) roll, there would be a total of 8 solid wires. A stranded conductor, however, uses multiple wires wrapped around each other in each conductor, resulting in a total of 56 stranded wires in a typical configuration of a 7-strand roll, each of which consists of 4-pairs or 8-conductors.
Solid conductor cables are ideal for structured wiring within a building. They can be easily punched down onto wall jacks and patch panels as they consist of a single conductor. The wire seats properly into the insulation displacement connector. Solid cables are less useful when terminating with standard RJ45 connectors, as used when making patch cables. Most RJ45 connectors use 2 prongs which penetrate the conductor itself. This is not desirable, since solid cable has the tendency to break when penetrated by the prong. Using 3-prong style RJ45 connectors creates a much better connection as it doesn't break the conductor—the 3-prongs style connection wraps around the conductor instead of penetrating it.
Stranded cables are much less useful for punching down on wall jacks because the strands do not keep their perfect round shape when thrust into a insulation displacement connector. Instead, stranded cable is typically used to create patch cables. The cable itself is more flexible, and rolls up well. The RJ45 terminators have a better, and more flexible and complete connection to stranded wires than solid wires.
In short, for best results, use solid cable for wall jacks and stranded cable for crimp connectors.
What is a Stranded Wire Cable?
Use stranded patch cables for connecting the workstation network interface cards (NICs) to the wallplate with patch panels and other equipment such as hubs. Made out of stranded conductors, patch cables are excellent for applications that call for repeated flexing without damaging the cable. Since attenuation is higher in stranded cables than in solid-conductor cables, 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 Wire 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 vibration and bending 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: Affecting both the flexibility and cost of a conductor. For any wire size, the more strands present, the more flexible and the more expensive the conductor becomes.