Your ethernet cable gives you a reliable and secure internet connection, especially when compared to Wi-Fi. Sometimes, though, the connection can fail, and you need to start troubleshooting. But if you’re troubleshooting a possibly failed ethernet cable that’s still plugged in, do you have to worry about an electrical shock? Can you get shocked by an ethernet cable?
Ethernet cables won’t shock you because they’re not carrying a serious amount of electricity. In PoE (Power over Ethernet) systems, the device providing the power will be supplying at most 48 volts, less than a static shock. However, an ethernet cable is ultimately just wires; if it’s connected to a source of electricity there could be a problem.
To put it really simply, there just isn’t enough power there to actually do any damage to a person. Even though there is a small amount of electricity running through the ethernet cable, it’s not enough to produce a hazardous shock. You would need to go quite a bit above 48 volts in order to harm a regular-sized human being. But any wire can transmit electricity unexpectedly if connected to a source, so, you should be careful when working with ethernet cables anyhow.
Can Ethernet/PoE Cables Shock You?
Even though ethernet cables with Power over Ethernet (PoE) are transmitting electricity, it’s a very low amount. You might feel more of a shock from static electricity than you do with a PoE cable. The low voltage is good news for pet owners. If the cable is chewed, their pet won’t be shocked. An ethernet cable still poses a risk, however, just not in the way that you would think.
For instance, the protective coating around the wires is harmful if swallowed. Even though there is minimal voltage traveling through a PoE cable, there have been reports of minor shocks. With that said, the jolt of power from the cable is small and isn’t harmful. However, it is startling, and you may feel a slight twinge in the affected area. It’s still not enough to be considered hazardous, but you do want to be careful around the wires.
Non-PoE Cable Can Still Give You a Small Shock
Ethernet cables are designed to provide a low amount of voltage to a connected device. With most cables transmitting around 47 to 48 volts, which is not enough to electrocute you…not even close. Along with the protective coating, the cable also comes with clamped metal ends which means the wires are tucked safely inside and away from people and pets.
With that in mind, it’s important to note that the cables still carry electricity. It’s one of the advantages of connecting a device because you can have one cable that does everything from sending and receiving data to supplying power. However, problems can happen that temporarily increases the voltage and increased voltage can produce painful and even dangerous shocks. Here are a few ways an ethernet cable can shock you, so you have a better understanding of the situation here.
Electricity Surges from Lightning
Lightning storms are dangerous by themselves. Add in electrical devices and cables, and there is the possibility of a shock. When lightning strikes, a strong electrical current is sent out. If the strike was near your home, it can temporarily (instantaneously…when the lightning strikes) boost the amount of voltage running through the ethernet cable.
Connected Electrical Devices
Problems can occur with devices that are connected to a wall outlet which may fail in a way that allows electricity to travel down the ethernet cables. A desktop computer, for instance, that is plugged into the wall, may fail in such a way that electricity is allowed to travel down all the attached cables, shorting out headphones, keyboards, or even equipment connected via ethernet.
This is super rare, and you shouldn’t be that worried about it, but if you’re specifically troubleshooting the ethernet cable, just err on the side of caution and unplug it if you have any worry about this source of electricity.
Using the Wrong Equipment
Nothing can make a device fail faster or increase the chances of an accidental shock as much as connected pieces of equipment that aren’t designed to be connected together. You quickly learn that devices don’t work optimally or break faster than they should. Ethernet cables do transmit varying amounts of power. So, while we can’t say which connections specifically will lead to equipment failure and shocks, our best advice is to not connect things that aren’t designed to be connected without doing some research ahead of time.
Improperly Connecting the Ethernet Cable to a Wall Electrical Box
You can connect an ethernet cable directly to an electrical box. It’s not recommended, except by a professional electrician or someone familiar with splicing wires together. This is one of those times when you want to make sure that there isn’t any power traveling through the cable.
Connecting an ethernet cable to an electrical box means removing one end cap. You also have to expose enough of the wires to connect to the ones in the box. Finally, you splice the wires together. When you’re done, you should have an ethernet connection to the corresponding outlet in the house. The connection isn’t always stable and is easier to troubleshoot the problem when the other device is powered on. However, you don’t want to touch any of the wires in the box if it’s still receiving electricity.
Let’s be super clear here though: you should never have to do this, and if you come across a setup that is connected this way…call an electrician and don’t touch it. While this is technically possible, there is essentially no reason a normal person should ever be considering this.
What Power-Over-Ethernet (POE) is And Why It Won’t Shock You
Power-over-ethernet allows network cables to carry electricity to a connected device. Instead of using two cables, one for power and the other for data, a single cable carries everything. If this sounds very convenient, it’s because it is. It makes installing devices like IP cameras from HITGX (on Amazon) a breeze, along with devices like VoIP phones, Wi-Fi radios, and other important household equipment.
Inside the cable are four wires, two sets each. One relays information, while the others transmit power. A small device referred to as an injector or midspan is responsible for transmitting electrical current to the power wires. If the ethernet cable doesn’t use midspan it relies on power from the network switch (which we discuss a little more in our article on PoE). This only applies to devices that come with PoE built-in.
All Ethernet cables are not exactly the same. For instance, the amount of electrical current and voltage differs from cable-type to cable-type. This means that before you connect the cable, you need to know what the device needs for optimal performance. IEEE 802.3 is the accepted standard for ethernet cables. It covers the type of wires, bandwidth, and signal level the cable uses. Most of the time, any ethernet cable will work, but if you really need the PoE connection to make or break your system, do some research ahead of time.
An IEEE cable transmits between 44 and 57 volts of electricity and can be a maximum of 100 meters in length. Using a cable with too low a voltage will affect the device’s performance. Too much electrical current can damage sensitive internal components, so you want to ensure your device is getting the right amount of power. And do reference our full PoE guide to make sure you fully understand how to work systems like this.
Even when you consider the rare events that could lead to you being shocked, like lightning strikes, the chances are that you won’t have to worry about a shock from an ethernet cable during normal day-to-day operation and management of your network connections. These systems, even Power over Ethernet, are designed to be very safe and never pose a risk to you.
However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that it’s safe to work on the cables when they’re still receiving power. Anytime you have an electrical current flowing, there’s always a risk for a shock so it’s wise to pay attention to what you’re doing. And if you have any worries for your own safety, stop and contact an electrician.