Running Ethernet Cables Outdoors

How to protect your network and cabling outside

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You can run Cat 6, Cat 5, or Cat 5e Ethernet cables outdoors to network computers with a large area network (LAN) between homes or other buildings. Although you can use ordinary Ethernet cables, the better option is to use the more expensive weatherproof Cat 6 cables.

Ordinary Cat 6 cable is not designed for outdoor uses. Extreme temperatures and humidity shorten the useful lifetime of such an outdoor network.

Using Ordinary Ethernet Cables Outdoors

With their thin plastic casing, ordinary Ethernet cables deteriorate quickly when exposed to the elements. For best results, if using ordinary Cat 6 Ethernet cables outdoors, place them in a conduit — PVC or other types of plastic pipe, installed with waterproofing, can work — 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.

Even with a conduit, you're better off with a weatherproofed Ethernet cable designed for outdoor use. Conduits can fail in particularly extreme weather, such as heavy rainstorms or subfreezing cold.

Using Direct Burial Exterior Ethernet Cables

Use special exterior waterproof direct burial Cat 6 cables (VIVO's is one example) for outdoor runs rather than ordinary Cat 6. Direct burial Cat 6 cables cost more, but they are designed for outdoor use. The protective jacket is made of either PVC on the cheaper end or Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE) on the more expensive and protective end. In addition to being sealed against moisture, they often have shielding against radio frequency (RF) interference.

Always test your network cable connections before burying them to avoid any wasted time and effort of having to dig it back up if there is a problem.

Exterior-grade Ethernet cables are waterproof and can be buried directly in the ground without the need of a conduit. If you aren't burying the cable, choose a waterproof Cat 6 cable that has a UV protective jacket to prevent damage from sunlight exposure. This is particularly important if you're running the cable up the side of a house or across a roof.

Ordinary and direct burial Cat 6 cables attract lightning strikes to some degree, and burying the cable doesn't necessarily lessen that risk. Surge protectors should be installed as part of an outdoor Ethernet network to guard against lightning strikes and prevent damage to your indoor equipment.

The 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). Beyond this, the signal carried begins to attenuate, reducing speed and reliability of the connections. However, some networks can operate successfully with Ethernet cables run twice that distance, but the chances for connectivity issues increases, and ultimately results vary from one cable to the next. 

Active hubs or other repeater devices can be installed with a series of Cat 6 cables to extend the range of an Ethernet outdoor network.