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Shielded vs. Unshielded Ethernet Cables: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re looking to build your network with new ethernet cables, you probably have to decide whether you need shielded or unshielded cables. This can be a fairly consequential decision to your overall project and the longevity of the installation.

Shielded Ethernet cables come with extra protection from static and EMI (electromagnetic interference). They are best for networks with sensitive applications where extra protection and reliability are necessary. Typically unshielded cables are perfectly fine for most consumer use cases.

When it comes to which cable you should choose, what do you need to know? Read on to discover more about ethernet cables, shielding, and how to pick between them.

What’s the Difference Between Shielded vs. Unshielded Ethernet Cables?

Stripped Ethernet cable with twisted wires

If you’re running network cables, you will most likely be looking at using CAT6 ethernet cables. But these cables come in a few different flavors, including shielded and unshielded. How can you know which is right for your project? What makes these two types of cables so different?

Put quite simply, shielded ethernet cables have extra protection in the form of aluminum foil, aluminum braid, or both. This extra protection helps prevent unwanted discharges of electricity that could run down the wire and ruin electronics.

While, in most environments, regular unshielded ethernet cable will do just fine, there are certain situations where shielded may be the better choice. Why? They offer protection against outside sources of electricity.

You see, all around us are electromagnetic waves that could disrupt or interfere with data transfer across the ethernet cable.

What shielded cables do is provide another path for this electricity. If you remember your middle school science class, electricity will always want to find the path of least resistance.

In the case of shielded cables, this comes in the form of a dedicated Electrostatic Discharge drain line and additional grounding. You’ll probably be interested to know that the costs are different as well. This TrueCable Cat 6 Unshielded Cable (on Amazon) costs about 40% less than the shielded version of the same cable (on Amazon).

What Are Some Similarities Between Shielded and Unshielded Ethernet Cables?

We’ve talked about what makes shielded cables different. Now let’s discuss what makes them the same as their unshielded counterparts.

First, both types of ethernet cables will have the same type of connector, in this case, RJ45. But the similarities don’t just stop there:

  • Both have eight wires arranged in twisted pairs, although some shielded wires will cover these in an extra layer of protection in the form of a metal casing.
  • Both cables perform the same function, which is to deliver data across a hard-wired connection.
  • You’ll use the same tools to work on both shielded and unshielded cables.
  • Both types of cables will sometimes have splines or plastic support structures in the cable to keep them organized and protected.

Should You Use Shielded or Unshielded Cable?

If you’re trying to decide which type of cable is best for your project, you’ll need to take a full assessment of where cables are being installed and what they are connecting to. At the end of the day, shielded cables offer more protection and reliability for the networks they are used with.

Here are some situations where you may want to use shielded cables:

  • If you’re running regular (AC) wiring alongside your network cables. This is especially true if you’re pulling wires through and inside walls.
  • If you’re running ethernet cables near high voltage wiring and control panels like a breaker box
  • If you’re running cables outside, extra protection is preferred.
  • For critical elements of your network (i.e., running from switch to switch, or switch to server, etc.)
  • If you’re near generators or electric motors that can give off static energy

What are Ethernet Cables Used for?

Colorful ethernet cables

Ethernet cables are the standard hard-wire connection for all kinds of networks. You probably know them for their most widely-known use: connecting to the internet.

But that’s not all they can do. While they do a very good job of sending and receiving internet data, they can also transfer other types of data—and sometimes power—but that’s another topic.

Ethernet cables are used for:

  • Running a local network
  • Connecting devices to a network (computer, laptop, TV, gaming console, etc.)
  • Powering and connecting PoE security cameras to a network
  • Other uses (connecting music production equipment)

When shopping around, you’ll often find all kinds of ethernet cables on the market. First, you’ll have to choose between the different categories of ethernet cables. In most cases, you’ll want to use the current standard CAT6 cable. But that’s just the start of these acronyms.

You may also see STP, UTP, and FTP. Here’s what they mean:

  • UTP: Unshielded twisted pairs
  • STP: Shielded twisted pairs (shielded)
  • FTP: Foil twisted pairs (shielded)

What Are Some Disadvantages of Using Shielded Cables?

Shielded Ethernet cables add extra protection. In any environment where that extra protection is necessary, you should use shielded cables. There’s a tradeoff, though.

First, shielded cables are a bit more of a pain to pull and run since they have the bulk of the extra protection. Next, shielded cables tend to be a bit more expensive than unshielded cables.

Buying bulk cable is always the best way to get the best bang for your buck. Even so, the shielded version will cost around 40% more. If you just want a little peace of mind, it might not be the right choice to use shielded cables.

Which Applications Can Get Away with Unshielded Ethernet Cables?

Choosing the right cable is all about what you’re going to need those cables to perform. If you don’t need to keep ambient static electricity and other power surges away from your connected devices, by all means, use unshielded cable.

The truth is, not everyone is going to use shielded cables, even for the projects that require it.


Since both shielded and unshielded cables perform essentially the same task, it’s easy to skip the extra protection altogether. Since it’s more expensive, too, it can easily become a decision based on budget. Unshielded cables work just fine, and for most applications, are a great choice.