It’s never as easy as it should be, is it?
When setting up your home network, it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard.
Any devices you want to connect to each other (or to the internet) directly are connected with an ethernet cable, while your wireless devices just connect to your wireless network without a cable.
Sounds straightforward enough.
The obstacle here is that there are multiple terms that can be used to describe your home networking equipment.
For example, let’s take ethernet cables.
Ethernet cables can be referred to as straight through cables. They can also be identified by the category of cable they are, like “cat5e cables” or “cat6 cables”.
Another term that causes a lot of confusion during home network setup is “LAN cable”.
What does the term LAN cable refer to? Is a LAN cable the same thing as an ethernet cable?
The answer here is: sometimes.
A LAN cable is a term used to describe any cable used in a local area network. LAN cables can refer to ethernet cables, but not all LAN cables are ethernet cables. Depending upon the configuration of the network, coaxial or fiber optic cables can also be referred to as LAN cables as well.
You need to be careful with the term LAN cable because it’s a broad term. There are several different types of LAN cables, and you need to make sure you use the right ones in your home network.
In this post I’ll break down all you need to know about LAN cables, including where the term comes from and how they should be used in your home network.
What does LAN mean?
In order to understand what a LAN cable is and how it’s used, we need to know what a LAN is.
LAN is an abbreviation for “Local Area Network”.
How helpful is that?
Ok, so let’s break it down further. What’s a local area network?
A local area network refers to all the cables and devices that make up a network in a given area. For example, all the internet devices in your home that’re connected to the internet are part of the LAN in your home. Other examples of a LAN would be all the devices in an office or university building.
Using your home as an example, the LAN in your home would consist of your:
- Router (if it’s a separate device from your modem)
- Smart phone
- Ethernet/LAN cables
- Online gaming devices
- Smart TV
- Smart outlets
Any of the devices in your home that’re connected to the internet (or to each other) are part of your LAN. The LAN that makes up your home network will stop at the point where your modem connects all your devices to the internet. This connection to the internet is where you LAN ends and the wide area network (WAN) begins.
Here’s a visual for reference:
As you can see, your LAN can be made up of many different types of devices. It doesn’t matter if these devices are connected wirelessly or with ethernet cables. They’re all part of the same local area network.
On top of that, a LAN is not limited by a certain number of devices. Some LANs are made up of thousands of devices. Other LANs consist of just a few.
Ok, so we’ve got LANs covered. Now let’s dig into LAN cables.
What are LAN cables used for?
If a LAN is made up of every device on a given network, you don’t have to think to hard to identify what LAN cables are used for.
You guessed it. LAN cables are used to connect the devices that make up your local area network.
There are many different ways that LAN cables are used to connect devices. They can be used to connect your:
- Internet service provider (ISP) to your modem
- Laptop to your router
- Gaming console to your router
- Printer to a switch
- Security cameras to a server
- Smart speaker to your router
These are just a few examples. There are many different ways to use LAN cables in a given network.
All LANs will have at least one LAN cable
It’s safe to say that every LAN that’s connected to the internet will have at least one LAN cable.
After all, that’s how you connect your LAN to the internet in the first place. Regardless of the type of internet connection you have, your modem will need to connect to your ISP through a LAN cable.
Here’s an example of a LAN cable connecting a modem to an internet service provider.
You’d also need to use a LAN cable if your modem and router are separate devices. If your modem and router are separate devices, they have to be connected with a cable.
This picture below might look similar to something you have in your home. The yellow cable connecting the modem and router is a LAN cable:
So you see, most local area networks need LAN cables to work properly.
Believe it or not, some people prefer using cables to connect the devices in their network. It isn’t just a requirement.
That’s because there are advantages to connecting devices through wires. By connecting devices with a cable, they can directly communicate with each other.
The benefit here is that LAN cables provide a more reliable connection than wireless connections. Not only that, but communication over an ethernet cable happens faster and with less delay as well.
This is especially helpful when online gaming, where every millisecond makes a difference.
Are all LAN cables ethernet cables?
Not all LAN cables are ethernet cables, but most of them are.
The term LAN cable can refer to several different types of cables. Depending upon the devices they’re connecting, LAN cables are usually:
- Fiber optic cables
- Coaxial cables
- Ethernet cables
With that said, most LAN cables are ethernet cables. You should only see a fiber optic or coaxial cable used as a LAN cable in a few cases.
In just about every other situation, LAN cables will be ethernet cables.
Let’s take a closer look at when each of these cables will be used.
Fiber optic cables
You’ll most likely only use a fiber optic cable in you local area network if you have fiber internet. With a fiber internet service, you’ll connect to the internet with a fiber optic cable.
Here’s an example of what a fiber optic cable looks like:
To connect to a fiber optic internet service, you’ll have to use a special modem that’s built specifically for fiber internet. This is where you’ll see a fiber optic cable used as a LAN cable.
One end of the fiber optic cable will connect to the back of your fiber modem. The other end will connect to the fiber connection that’s coming from the street.
In this case, the fiber cable connecting your modem to the fiber cable coming from the street will be a LAN cable.
In most homes and offices, this’ll be the only situation where a fiber optic cable will be a LAN cable. Datacenters often use fiber cables to connect different devices in the LAN, but this is overkill for most home and office applications.
Another common type of cable that can serve as a LAN cable is a coaxial cable. I’m sure this looks familiar to you:
Coaxial cables follow a similar pattern to fiber optic cables. There are only a few situations where a coaxial cable will be a LAN cable.
The most common case where a coaxial cable will be a LAN cable is when a house or office has cable internet service.
In this scenario, the coaxial cable is used to connect a cable modem to the internet service that’s wired to the house. Chances are, you’ll see the coaxial cable connected to a cable jack in the wall.
Here’s an example of what a coaxial cable jack looks like:
This coaxial cable jack connects your home to the internet service that’s wired from the street.
The only other time I’ve seen a coaxial cable used as a LAN cable is with a WiFi extender. In this case, the router and extender were connected with a coaxial cable to extend the range of WiFi in a home.
Ethernet cables are the most common type of LAN cable. This is because they can be used in a variety of applications.
I’m sure you’ve come across some of these in your travels:
They can be used to connect:
- Your modem to your internet provider
- A modem and router (if they’re separate devices)
- Two of the devices in your network (e.g. an ethernet switch to a computer)
- Any of your internet-connected devices to your router
While the other common types of LAN cables are mostly used to connect a modem to a certain type of internet service, ethernet cables can be used pretty much anywhere.
What you’ll also find is that more and more household devices are getting connected to the internet each year. Now you can buy dishwashers, refrigerators, washing machines, and home security cameras that connect to your LAN. Many of these devices offer ethernet ports so you can provide them with a wired connection to your network.
Why’s this important?
It’s important because you’ll only see more LAN cables that are ethernet cables moving forward. If ethernet cables are the most common type of LAN cable now, I can only imagine what it’ll look like in 10 more years. In other words, I envision the percentage of LAN cables that are ethernet cables only to increase moving forward.
What LAN cables should you use in your network?
When it comes to determining what type of LAN cable you should use in your network, you usually don’t have much choice.
What I mean by this is you should use the LAN cable that your devices require. For example, if you want to connect your laptop to your router with a wired connection, you’ll have to use an ethernet cable. Laptops don’t come with ports for fiber optic or coaxial cables.
As I mentioned previously, most of the devices in your LAN will require ethernet cables to connect them to each other.
And remember, although not every LAN cable is an ethernet cable, most of them are.
Now you should have a good handle on the different types of cables that’re used as LAN cables. If you have any questions about this information, please drop a comment below. For other interesting reading on related topics, check out some of these other posts I’ve previously written: