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Unshielded twisted pair vs. shielded twisted pair

Before we jump into the pros and cons of UTP vs. STP we should dig a little deeper into what unshielded-twisted and shielded-twisted actually means. In this instance the cable is shielded by a foil or a conductive shield, hence the name. This shield is meant to protect against conductive interference which does not mean that the unshielded is not protected, but it is just protected differently. 

Unshielded-twisted or shielded-twisted? Which one do I need?

There are only a few specific cases where a STP is needed and that is usually to protect against high-level interference that can be from electromagnetic fields, power lines, and even radar systems. These are not your standard network situations, so STP cables are generally used in Network cabinets in these more unique situations.

What are the shielded (STP) advantages?

Through the use of a metallic foil, it is possible to cancel out the electromagnetic interference thoroughly to maintain faster data transfer speeds. For companies that need that safety it is important to make sure that your network cabling is all STP standard. Otherwise there is the possibility of either throttled data speeds or even outages.

What are the shielded (STP) disadvantages?

However, there are also disadvantages when considering STP cables: 

  • Cost – the STP cables are noticeably more expensive in cost which can add up quickly.
  • Size – due to the foil in casing the cable size increases that’s more space is needed when cabling your network.
  • Installation: a higher level of expertise is needed when installing the cables as STP cables need to be grounded. If they are not grounded the shield doesn’t work and data transfer speed suffers. Also, outages may occur.
  • Fragile: if the foil is compromised anywhere along the cable, the shielding is useless.

What are the unshielded (UTP) advantages?

Mainly what are considered the disadvantages of shielded cables are the advantages of the unshielded ones. For most networks, whether they be home or at an office, unshielded should be fit for purpose. They cancel out interference by being twisted, just as the shielded ones but at a way more precise level. Their advantages are:

  • Costs: cheaper than the STP.
  • Maintenance: As there is no foil to break and no grounding cable, there is less to break. This reduces the need to find a small tear in the foil.
  • Installation: no need for special cable care during installation.
  • Size: smaller and less sensitive makes it easier to squeeze them into tight spaces.
  • Ubiquity: used in most situations so they are more common.

What are the unshielded (UTP) disadvantages?

The only disadvantage that UTP have over STP is when they are used in an environment not fit for purpose. For example when used in a situation where there is a lot of electromagnetic noise.

How to decide: UTP vs. STP?

Go by this rule: if there is a lot of electromagnetic noise that needs to be cancelled, then go with the STP cables. Otherwise the UTP cables should suit your needs perfectly!

In either case, we’ve got you covered!

Stay tuned to find out more about how to choose the right cables for your network cabinet! In the next post we’ll discuss glass fiber multimode vs. single mode and other general cabling questions.