What Is AWG? Understanding Ethernet Cable Gauge

Posted on Nov 17, 2023

Ethernet cables are the lifelines of modern communication, serving as the physical connectors that enable data transfer and Internet connectivity. These cables are used in a wide range of applications, from home networks to large-scale data centers, and are essential for fast and reliable network transmission. But what makes Ethernet cables differ in terms of their performance and capabilities? One of the key factors is the wire gauge, often specified in terms of AWG (American Wire Gauge).

What Is AWG (American Wire Gauge)?

AWG stands for American Wire Gauge (sometimes called the Brown & Sharpe wire gauge), a standardized wire gauge system used to measure the diameter of electric conducting wire in the United States since 1857. In the context of Ethernet cables, AWG defines the gauge of the copper conductors inside the cable.

AWG refers to a numerical designation that helps describe the size and capacity of wires and is calculated by squaring the number of the radius of the wire, and multiplying it by pi (AWG = πr²). A LOWER AWG number indicates a THICKER wire. For example, a 23AWG cable has larger wires than a 28AWG cable and a 26AWG cable has smaller wires than a 24AWG cable in reverse.

Further Reading: AWG can also be used to specify the size of stranded wires, which is slightly different compared to solid wires. When referring to AWG for stranded wire, it is written as "AWG with the number of strands." For example, "24 AWG 7/32" means it's a 24 AWG stranded wire with 7 strands of 32AWG wire within it. The first part (24AWG) represents the overall size of the stranded wire, and the second part (7/32) specifies the number of strands and their individual size (7 strands of 32AWG each).

AWG Wire Cable Size

What Are the Common Wire Gauges?

Certain types of cables will always be the same AWG. For instance, coax cables tend to be the same size across the board with different connectors made for the different kinds of cables. However, Ethernet cables normally have different AWGs, but typically 24AWG or 26AWG from most manufacturers, and 28AWG slim Ethernet cables are becoming more popular among users.

  • AWG 24: This is a thicker wire gauge. Ethernet cables with AWG 24 conductors can carry more current and are often used in applications where longer cable runs are needed or where signal strength is critical.

  • AWG 26: This is a thinner wire gauge. Ethernet cables with AWG 26 conductors are more flexible and easier to work with. They are commonly used for shorter cable runs or in applications where flexibility and space constraints are more important.

  • AWG 28: This is the slimmest wire gauge among the three. Ethernet cables with AWG 28 are highly flexible and are suitable for applications where space-saving and flexibility are top priorities.

Here is a wire size chart covering some commonly seen gauges (above 20AWG):

AWG Gauge Conductor Diameter (in) Conductor Diameter (mm)
20 0.0320 0.8128
21 0.0285 0.7239
22 0.0253 0.6452
23 0.0226 0.5740
24 0.0201 0.5105
25 0.0179 0.4547
26 0.0159 0.4039
27 0.0142 0.3607
28 0.0126 0.3200
29 0.0113 0.2870
30 0.0100 0.2540
31 0.0089 0.2261
32 0.0080 0.2032

Check FAQ about Regular vs Slim Patch Cables to figure out their differences.

How Does Wire Gauge Impact Ethernet Cables?

As a matter of fact, wire gauge has a significant impact on the performance and characteristics of Ethernet cables in the following aspects:

  • 1. Signal Quality: Thicker conductors have lower resistance, which means they can carry signals over longer distances with less signal loss and can support higher data transmission speeds as well. This is crucial in high-speed data transmission like 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) and beyond.

  • 2. Heat and Airflow: Thicker cables produce less heat, but over short runs (one meter or less), the heat production difference between thick and thin Ethernet cables doesn't add up to a whole lot. Meanwhile, thinner cables are better for airflow — there's just more room for air between the cables. With improved airflow comes better heat management, which is particularly suitable for network closets or other extremely dense spaces.

  • 3. Flexibility and Space Constraints: Thicker cables are obviously less flexible according to their appearance. While thinner conductors are more flexible and are preferred in situations where cable routing and flexibility are essential. They are connected in very short runs or through awkward positions, giving network designers more freedom.

  • 4. Power Over Ethernet (PoE): When transmitting power along with data, thicker conductors are better equipped to handle higher power loads. This is important when connecting devices like security cameras, access points, and IP phones that rely on PoE.

  • 5. Cost and Availability: Thinner conductors are typically less expensive and readily available. This can make them a cost-effective choice for certain applications.

How to Choose Among Different Wire Gauges?

The choice of wire gauge depends on your specific networking needs. Thicker conductors (like 24AWG) are ideal for high-speed, long-distance transmission and PoE applications. Thinner conductors (26AWG & 28AWG) offer flexibility and are preferred for short cable connections and applications where cable routing and space constraints are important. By understanding the differences between these wire gauges, you can select the Ethernet cable that best fits your requirements and ensures optimal network performance. Please read this buying guide before purchasing: 24AWG vs 26AWG vs 28AWG Ethernet Cable, How to Choose?

Final Thoughts about Copper Wiring

As the demand for higher data speeds and more efficient networking solutions continues to grow, the role of cable gauge in Ethernet cable design becomes increasingly important. The choice between AWG 24 and AWG 26 or AWG 28 is not only about meeting current requirements but also preparing for future needs.

Ethernet cable manufacturers are continually working to develop cables with thinner conductors that maintain high performance to meet the challenges of modern networking. The future prospects of cable gauge involve finding innovative ways to enhance performance, reduce costs, and adapt to evolving technologies.

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