Running Ethernet Cables Outdoors

Use waterproof cabling and surge protectors for outdoor networking

Illustrative image of cable coiled around cloud representing cloud computing
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You can run Cat6, Cat5 or Cat5e Ethernet cables outdoors to network computers between homes or other buildings. They can also be run up the outside of a house or across a roof to reach another room.

Although you can use regular Cat6 cables, the better option is to use the more expensive weatherproof Cat6 cables.

Using Regular Cat6 Cables

With their thin, plastic casing, ordinary Ethernet cables deteriorate quickly when exposed to the elements. For best results when using regular Cat6 Ethernet cables outdoors, place them in a conduit and then bury the conduit under the ground at a depth of about 6 to 8 inches and at least that far away from power lines or other sources of electrical interference.

PVC or other types of plastic pipe, installed with waterproofing, can work as a conduit. Ordinary CAT6 cable is not designed for outdoor uses, however. Extreme temperatures and humidity shorten the useful lifetime of such an outdoor network.

Using Direct Burial Exterior Cat Cables

Special exterior waterproof direct burial CAT6 cables (VIVO's is one example) should be used for outdoor runs instead of ordinary CAT6. Direct burial CAT6 cables cost more, but they are designed specifically for outdoor use.

Exterior-grade Ethernet cables are waterproof and do not require conduit. They can be buried directly in the ground, but if you aren't burying the cable, choose a waterproof Cat6 cable that has a UV protective jacket (like this one from Ultra Spec Cables) to prevent damage from sunlight exposure. This is particularly important if you're running the cable up the side of the house or across the roof.

Both ordinary and direct burial CAT6 cables attract lighting strikes to some degree, and burying the cable doesn't necessary lessen its affinity for lightning. Surge protectors should be installed as part of an outdoor Ethernet network to guard against lightning strikes and prevent damage to your indoor equipment.

Range of Exterior Network Cabling

A single Ethernet cable, whether indoor or outdoor, is only designed to function over a distance of about 328 feet (about 100 meters). However, some networks operate successfully with Ethernet cables run twice that distance.

When the network cable is extended past the recommended limit of 328 feet, reliability and performance may suffer. Active hubs or other repeater devices can be installed with a series of CAT6 cables to extend the range of an Ethernet outdoor network.

Ultimately, results vary from one cable to the next. 

Note: Cat6 cables are backward compatible with Cat5 and Cat5e cables.