When you think of using a network outdoors, there’s probably a few things that come to mind. You might be thinking of wireless internet access. It’s possible that mobile data plans are also something that pops up in your head. You could also be thinking of WLAN. What you don’t think about or likely don’t give much consideration is the idea of running a LAN patch cable to a terminal outside of a home or office.
Let’s face facts. People who use terminals to access networks typically work indoors. They don’t get out of the office or their home still wired up. That’s what wireless technologies are for, some might say. Yet, sometimes you feel a need to keep a wired connection active even outside. Which causes you to ask the question: can you run ethernet cables outdoors?
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Why Run Them Outdoors?
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First, let’s look at the reasons someone might want to run these cables outdoors. The obvious one is that they want to create a network that covers multiple buildings, so the cables need to be run from structure to structure. This could be done for multiple homes in a large network, for a campus, or even a government compound with a closed-access system. If you are a municipality hoping to set up a city-wide network, you’ll look into this too.
What Issues Can I Expect?
Now, you can run your typical Cat-5 or Cat-5e cables, or even use the Cat-6 ones for this purpose. However, it’s generally advisable that you don’t use the ones that aren’t protected from the environment. The simple truth is that the average cable isn’t designed for use in the outdoors. There are too many environmental hazards.
Power lines, for instance, generate a great deal of electromagnetic interference that will disrupt the signal transmission of the standard LAN patch cable. There are many chances for the environment to damage them through abrasion or vibration. Movement and construction might disrupt vital infrastructure maintaining the network. Extremes of heat and cold, along with humidity, can rot a cable from the inside. In other words, the ethernet cables used indoors aren’t built for the outdoors.
What Do I Need?
You need to get weatherproofed ethernet cables, the ones that are built to survive in extreme weather. Sometimes, you’ll see these named Direct Burial Exterior Ethernet cables. They’re more expensive, but they can take punishment like heavy rainfall or storms without losing performance.
The protective jacketing is the main difference here. It will usually be PVC on the low-cost end, while more high-end ones instead use polyethylene. This is meant to prevent moisture and water from getting inside to damage the interior copper. It also provides adequate shielding against radio frequencies, which are a typical source of interference when you expose ethernet to outdoor environments.
Where Do They Get Used?
In general, ethernet cables used in outdoor environments are laid down in one of two specific places. The first is on the exteriors of buildings, exposing them to weather and potential physical damage. The second is underground, where moisture and vibration are more likely to cause issues. Both would require specific protective standards, so be sure to check if what you’re looking to buy has both.
Exterior-grade cables can be buried right into the ground, so you don’t need a conduit like you would other cables. However, it’s still a good idea to test them if they work so you don’t need to spend money digging them back up in case something wasn’t installed right.
If the cable isn’t going underground, a waterproof cable with protection against ultraviolet light is essential. Moisture is still a concern, but UV rays can wear down and damage the jacket and leave the wires exposed. This is particularly true if you need to run the cable along a rooftop or the sides of a building.
What About Lightning?
Lighting strikes are also a cause of concern. Both standard and burial cables can attract bolts of lightning, and putting them deep underground doesn’t always mitigate that issue. As such, any outdoor network that runs ethernet cables will want surge protection installed. This will prevent both the cables being fried by lightning and that same intense electrical current traveling and ruining your indoor equipment.
Why Not Use Wireless?
With all of these concerns, you might be wondering why you should bother. After all, wouldn’t using hardware to pass along and repeat wireless signals be less expensive? It would be, but it also means your speeds are slower and less reliable. At the same time, you’re opening yourself up to other forms of interference, with very little you can do against it. A wired network, even with at-risk ethernet cables, is still a better choice.
In summary, you can run and lay down ethernet cables in the great outdoors. It isn’t advisable because it exposes them to all sorts of environmental hazards. There are specialized cables that are protected against these issues, though it’s still best to design the network so it is resilient enough to withstand any potential losses.