It’s a big day: you finally upgraded your Internet connection, stepping up to a 250 Mbps or faster fiber plan. Your equipment has arrived from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), and you’ve hooked everything up. You go online, and there’s no doubt your connection is faster, but you expected more. So you run an online speed test to see your broadband’s true performance, and it’s not nearly as fast as you were hoping for. More importantly, it’s not as fast as you’re paying for.

So what’s the deal? Your Ethernet cables may be to blame.

All Ethernet Cables Are Not the Same

We get it. You didn’t use the cables that came with your new equipment because you already had a perfectly good setup from when you installed your DSL modem 10 years ago. The old cables were already in place, the correct length, and neatly bundled. Why run new cables when all you had to do was plug the old ones into your new equipment? Actually, there’s a very good reason why you should at least check out your old cables before you reuse them: cables have speed ratings, and older ones aren’t as fast as newer ones.

Although it’s unlikely, true pack rats may have some ancient Category 3 (Cat3) cable in use. By high-speed Internet standards, this stuff is pretty ancient and can support only 10 Mbps. Back when 10Base-T connections were common, Cat3 cable worked just fine, but there’s no reason to use it today. Even if you’re on a DSL connection that doesn’t reach 10 Mbps, newer cables are less susceptible to interference.

At 16 Mbps, Cat4 cable is slightly faster, but it never really caught on and Cat5 soon replaced it. Cat5 cable can handle 100 Mbps and should be able to support a gig connection. Interference can reduce Cat5 performance, so Cat5E offers improved shielding for less interference and more stable performance. But if you don’t want to have any doubts about your cables, use a Cat6 cable. Unless you have something like a 100 Gbps connection — and almost no one does — Cat6 cable will offer more than enough performance.

Shorter is Better

The total amount of cable you have in your home also makes a difference. If you have a large home with an extensive network, it’s possible that your performance is suffering simply because you have too much cable.

How to Tell What You Have

You don’t have to be a network administrator to tell these cables apart. Your cable should be labeled with its category. The simplest solution is to use the cables that came with your networking equipment. Your ISP won’t supply you with a gigabit modem and Cat3 cable. If you bought your own networking equipment, or you need more cable than your ISP supplied, new cable is cheap enough that replacing what you have won’t break your budget.

Take a look at your Ethernet cables. If they’re Cat5 or older, they may be negatively affecting your Internet browsing speed.

Photo Credit: David Davies