Coax vs Ethernet

Coax vs Ethernet

What’s the difference to coax and Ethernet? There are layers to this question and there’s no one answer to follow. Ethernet is a network communication method that can be carried out by various cable types, including coaxial cables. In regards to what’s better, coax vs Ethernet wiring, most will go with Ethernet (as in the default wires that come with your Ethernet cable connection) instead of coaxial (as in using coaxial cables to run your Internet). By the way, in modern slang, coax refers to high-frequency shielded cables used to connect buildings or rooms and Ethernet cables refer to cables used to connect network devices together.

So how do coaxial cables compare to Ethernet cables as far as Internet speeds and transfer speeds are concerned?

Comparison Chart

Categories Coaxial Ethernet
Raw Bitrate Potential 100 megabits (100,000,000 bits) per second 1,000 megabits or 1 gigabit (1,000,000,000 bits) per second*

 

*It can go up to 10 Gbps or 400 Gbps

Speedtest.net 25-50 Mbps 25-50 Mbps
Speedof.met 40-42 Mbps 50 Mbps
Local File Transfer 10 Mbps 589 Mbps 


What Is Coaxial?

A coax or coaxial cable is an electrical cable type that can be used for your Internet connection as well as satellite or cable television as well as cable Internet. It’s characterized by having an inner conductor surrounded by a tubular insulating layer that is then covered by a tubular conducting shield.

You can get your coaxial cable as thinner as in the case of RG6 cables to allow for bending on sharp corners when doing home installations or as thicker RG11 cables to allow for less attenuation or signal loss over a given cable length at the higher cost of inflexible cables.

Many of these cables come with an insulating outer jacket or sheath. The coaxial term is named after the outer shield and inner conductor sharing a geometric axis. Amazingly, an English mathematician, engineer, and physicist by the name of Oliver Heaviside invented the coax way back in the 19th Century, with the patent for the design occurring back in 1880. Coaxial cables remain a dependable method of carrying high-frequency electrical signals with low losses, especially when you use the thicker variants like RG11 but at the cost of flexibility.

What Is Ethernet?

Ethernet is a family or group of computer network tech typically used in metropolitan area networks or MAN, wide area networks or WAN, and local area networks or LAN. It was back in the 1980s where it was commercially introduced then standardized as IEEE 802.3 in 1983. Since then, it has retained quite a bit of backward compatibility, such that it’s been refined to do longer link distances and support higher bit rates. As time went on, Ethernet replaced ARCNET, FDDI, and Token Ring wired LAN tech. In slang, Ethernet refers to the solid form or twisted pair cables. The current favored Ethernet cable is Category 6 (CAT6) and Category 7 (CAT7).

The original Ethernet of 10BASE5 used the shared medium of the coaxial cable. Meanwhile, current Ethernet providers in the modern age of the 21st Century instead make use of fiber optics and twisted pair along with switches in order to work for a faster connection. Over the course of its existence, Ethernet cable data transfer rates went from 2.94 megabits per second to 400 gigabits per second. The standards of Ethernet today comprise several signaling and wiring variants of the OSI physical layer in use with the technology.

Speed Tests and Test Parameters

Is coax slower than plain Ethernet? It should be given all things are equal but there are some variables to take into consideration that might make coax the preferred choice over Ethernet. To create a fair environment for the test, a complete home network should be created using DirecTV wiring and equipment. Although the fastest Ethernet on the planet can go as fast as 400 Gbps, you might only be able to afford a limit of 1,000 Mbps or 1 Gbps; otherwise, you might have to pay extra and special packages to go as high as 10 Gbps from a straight CAT6 Ethernet connection to the router.

There will be some slowdown so it becomes less about the raw capabilities of an Ethernet cable versus a coax cable since there’s the additional variable of Internet provider speeds. The debate suddenly changes: Does your provider throttle speeds so much that a coaxial is able to reach close to the speeds of your Ethernet cable package? There might end up with significant speed degradation to your Ethernet versus your coax even though your computer lists down a 100 Mbps Ethernet to 300 Mpbs wireless connection.

Running Through Speedtest.net

The most commonly used speed test for Internet speeds online is Speetest.net. It gets a good sense of user speed through the transmission of media files of varying sizes. It also doesn’t store any info on the user’s computer like certain other tests, so you’ll get to test only the raw Internet speed instead of, say, the disk speed of your machine. The results of the website’s speed test shouldn’t be too surprising.

The provider dictates speed after all. Whether you’re connected by coax, Wi-Fi, or Ethernet, the results should be about the same since it’s provider-dependent. A typical homeowner should get 25 Mbps up or 50 Mbps down. It’s hard to show that Internet speeds over coax are slower than compared to Ethernet when the provider throttles the speed potential of the customer by the 50 Mbps limit on the bitrate.

Making Use of Speedof.me

Aside from Speedtest.net, you can also make use of Speedof.me to test your Internet speeds depending on your connection. A different system of testing Internet speeds is used by Speedof.me compared to Speedtest.net. This time around, the site sends multiple different-sized files then stores them on your local hard drive. It’s the next best test to get if there’s a possibility that using the hard drive would cause coax networking speed drops or not.

When using this test, there’s a slight difference in speed between the Ethernet cables and coax as well as the Wi-Fi network. The difference is about 16% or about 8-10 Mbps of the total speed was lost between coax and Ethernet. There were drops in speed equally with the coax and Wi-Fi. The reason for the speed drop is probably because of the local hard drive’s read-and-write speeds. Even though 8-10 Mbps is a significant drop at least it’s not an 80% drop reported by certain users who use coax versus Ethernet.

Local File Transfer

If a speed difference were to be found between Ethernet and coax cables then a local test is your best bet because you’re not dealing with network limits imposed by your provider that almost makes your Internet speeds by Ethernet and coax identical. A good way to test speeds locally is to copy an 807-megabyte file from place to place then timing the actual transfer time with a +/- 1-second margin of error to take into consideration.

The main variable that affects speeds is the speed limit of the drive that can’t go all the way up to 1,000 Mbps on the Ethernet test. It can instead top off at about more than half or 589 Mbps when undergoing file reception. The Wi-Fi is particularly poor when it comes to file transfer as though it’s using the Internet to conduct the transfer while the coaxial performed just about the same give or take slowdowns from the drive itself. So that’s 10 Mbps or 10% of the rated 100 Mbps.

Practical Applications 

Ethernet cables are typically utilized on wired networks to link machines and devices such as PCs, routers, and switches to LANs. While the CAT6 and CAT7 cable types are the current modern standards for quality Ethernet cable action, CAT5 remains viable and in use among quite a number of households. However, coaxial cables are more useful with large office buildings due to their flexibility and decent signal delivery as longer lengths depending on the Internet speeds and drive speeds of your computers. Coaxial is highly shielded, thus allowing them to carry signals at longer distances or bigger multiple-floor networks even though they have a lower speed potential compared to Ethernet cables.

The Bottom Line

This difference in drop depends on how fast a package you’ve availed for with your Ethernet. If you go beyond 50Mbps then 80% drops are possible when switching to coax and Wi-Fi. What’s more, the speed limit of the drive can also affect the effectiveness of coax versus Ethernet, with the coax suffering the brunt of the slowdown as dictated by the limits of the hard drive. In other words, while the speed potential of Ethernet cables is higher than coaxial cables, other variables such as network provider speeds and the speed of your own hard drive make them roughly equal to each other in terms of signal delivery speeds. Ethernet is more scalable to the forward march of technology, though.

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