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99% Of All Network Problems Start With..

Usually when one has a network connectivity issue, the first reaction is to blame the router. When the router checks out, the next blame is pinned on the internet modem. After that, the blame is pinned on the network card itself.


You should have checked the network cable first. And if that checks out, then you check the other stuff.

Years ago a LAN Administrator told me, "99% of all LAN problems start with cabling." And he was correct. This is advice I still follow to this day.

What makes a network cable fail in the home?

This is divided into two sections: Stuff that is your fault and stuff that is not.

Network cable problems that are not your fault:

Poor build quality

The cable is thin, the shielding is subpar, the connectors aren’t crimped correctly. Not your fault.

Coiled improperly or not at all

The best cable makes a perfect coil (more on that in a moment). And there is no over-the-counter consumer grade network cable you can buy that coils perfectly. What you receive instead is an improperly "figure 8" or oval-wrapped (and twist-tied) cable – and it sucks. This is because those methods of packaging break shielding and damages the cable on the inside  before you even get it. Again, not your fault.

Network cable problems that are your fault:


Any tension on a network cable is bad, period.


When kitty decides to make your cable a teeth-sharpener, that’s obviously not good.

Tension at the connector

Again, tension is bad. If your cable is pulled at its connector on either side, this isn’t good.

Too hot

Is your network cable next to a window an exposed to the sun during the day? If it is, move it.

Who makes the best network cable?

Two types of people make the best cable.

1. A network installer.

At a company where I previously worked, if you wanted some network cable, the guy (who happened to be a Nortel tech) would go to the truck, pull the cable off a spool and crimp it personally.

2. You.

Making your own network cable is relatively easy. You need a pro-grade crimper and decent cable stock. The stock I’m referring to only comes in a box and you have to buy at least 500 feet (roughly 150 meters) of it. Examples and prices of this are here, starting with most expensive.

Boxed network cable comes in a spool. When packaged this way it perfectly coils like it’s supposed to and therefore lasts longer.

What’s the big deal about coiling?

As a test, from a standing position you should be able to use one hand, feed cable to the floor and make a circle (the coil) easily. If the cable does this, it’s good. If not, it’s junk.

A network cable that coils well will last about 10 years assuming it’s laid properly. One that doesn’t will not last nearly as long.

How long can a network cable be?

100 meters (328 feet). And I have personally witnessed a network admin test this limit before – and lost. It was in a production environment on the plant floor. A length of cable needed to go 330 feet. At 325 the signal degraded completely and a network hub had to be installed just to accommodate for the last 5 feet to carry the signal.

For anyone that needs extended length cable like this, I strongly recommend not to exceed 250 feet (just over 76 meters). If you are in the situation where you must go beyond that, buy a low-cost 4-port network switch as a "repeater" of sorts. Then you’ll get the extra length you need. Bear in mind they must be powered (they all come supplied with their own power adapter).

Why bother with a long network cable when there’s wireless?

As any homeowner that has a three-floor and/or vintage house setup will tell you, wireless doesn’t always work. Even with N range (the next level above G) it may still not be able to be received. In that situation you’re forced to go with a traditional wired setup – even if it’s just to snake a wire two floors up to connect a second wireless router.

So I should never buy network cable from the store again?

No. What I am saying is to know what you’re buying. Understand that cable "likes" to naturally coil.

I will say this: If you see network cable in a package in that dreaded oval or figure 8 style wrap, don’t buy it. Purposely seek out cable that is packaged as a circle. It may not be as good as making your own cable, but at least you have relative assurance it will last longer.

Final note: Telephone cable in your house is flat-style wiring. That doesn’t coil because it can’t in the way it’s made. "Round-wound" cable, such as network cable is, will.

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2 thoughts on “99% Of All Network Problems Start With..”

GamblingSoftwaresite says:
as a professional that have done at least half mile of cabling I agree with you!
Steve Stone says:
I think there are a few too many generic assumptions about cable quality in this article.
What makes cat 5 coil vs not coil? The wire size? The insulation? Shielding? the twist? Copper vs whatever? Indoor telco cable used to be called “twisted pair” for a reason. Is the “flat” style cable you know of also known as ivory quad or are we talking of some generic stuff installed by George the brute force electrician and his Klein lineman pliers and big hammer? Once the wire is in the wall and working why is it only good for ten years?
Rich Menga says:
Okay I’ll put it in even plainer terms.

You buy a power extension cord for outdoor use at Home Depot. Each time you are finished using it, you wrap it using the “thumb-and-elbow” method. This is absolutely the wrong way to store a cable. Each time the cable goes over your thumb and elbow you are stretching it, thereby decreasing the life of the cable and it will break prematurely.

Cable, regardless of what’s inside, does not react well to stretching. If you’re asking what could break, the answer is *everything*. The braided shielding, the insulation, the copper, all of it.

If you buy network cable that does not coil, it is bad cable, period. If it is not coiled when you purchase it, you are buying crap cable. I cannot explain it any simpler.

And standard indoor telephone cabling from your handset to the wall with RJ-11 connectors on either end is flat-wound, not round. Flat-wound is manufactured in such a way where it cannot coil once in finalized form.

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Apr 21, 2009

643 Articles Published