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What is an Ethernet Patch Cable?

Ethernet patch cables or straight-through cables connect powered devices (PD) of different types, such as lighting systems, digital display monitors, computers or any of the new IoT devices on the market right now to a network switch or Ethernet hub.

Ethernet patch cables constructed of stranded copper work well within a small space and may frequently move without damage to the copper strands. In contrast, Ethernet cable with solid core construction can be damaged with too much handling.

NOTE: the use of stranded copper Ethernet cabling is only appropriate where the distance is less than 75-feet in length. For indoor cables, use fire rated jackets such as riser or plenum. Outdoor rated Ethernet cables are not fire rated and therefore are not meant to be used inside a structure.

Where to use an Ethernet patch cable

Ethernet patch cables, also called patch cords, are short lengths of Cat5e, Cat6 or Cat6A used to connect PDs to networks. For home use, described in the scenario above, that might be your gaming console and your router.

In businesses, IT administrators also use patch cables to connect two or more “backbone” devices such as switch to switch, or patch panel to switch. Patch cables not only send data signals, but also carry PoE or Power over Ethernet to power a remote device such as a stand alone WiFi Access Point.

The backbone network equipment such as switches may stay the same over the life of the network, but the end point work area devices they connect can and do change, as will the Ethernet patch cable. Ethernet patch cables usually connect PDs within the same room and often connect equipment in racks over short distances.

How an Ethernet patch cable differs from a structured cable


In contrast to the short distance flexible deployments achieved with patch cabling, structured cabling describes the extensive type of cabling deployment complete with all of the associated hardware, and providing comprehensive in-building infrastructure.

Structured cabling infrastructure supports systems like telephone service and IT networks that transmit data and can extend up to 100 meters (328 feet).

Structured cabling can consist of up to six subsystems:

  • Work area
  • Horizontal cabling
  • Backbone cabling
  • Equipment room
  • Telecommunications closet
  • Entrance facilities

Horizontal cabling describes riser rated or plenum rated cabling, connecting telecommunications rooms to individual outlets or work areas on the floor, usually through the wires, conduits or ceiling spaces of each floor.

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