The Ethernet is the most used LAN technology in the world. It allows devices to be networked and basically runs the backbone of the internet. It connects computers, routers, printers, gaming consoles, phones, etc.
Ethernet connections are provided to a room via a wall plate, a patch panel or a surface-mount box. But since the many types of devices that connect with a plate, panel or box require different types of inputs, you must have the right keystone jack or module to adapt your device. A keystone snaps into a wall plate and its ports allow you to connect a variety of low-voltage devices to an Ethernet network.
Many types of keystone modules are available. To name a few, the list includes six-pin 6P6C (RJ-11) modular jacks for telephones; F connectors for TV antennas, cable and satellite; and RCA jacks for audio/video. But the most common connector used for Ethernet networking is the RJ45. It has eight pins in eight positions (8 x 8) and is used to connect to Ethernet cables, including Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a and above.
The RJ45 jack is a universal standard that the vast majority of manufacturers adhere to. However, not all RJ45 connectors are the same. When buying them, always check the connector's fitment specifications, or the cable jack diameter, and the conductor insulation diameter allowed. Cable jack diameter refers to the outer diameter of your Ethernet cable, and the conductor insulation diameter refers to the outer diameter of each individual wire inside your Ethernet cable. Make sure both the cable and the wires fit into the connector of choice.
It can be confusing to shop for Ethernet jacks and adapters because they are available in many types and with different specifications. But you can greatly narrow down your choices by making three decisions before you start. First, what category or categories of cables and jacks do you need? Second, do you need shielded or unshielded jacks? Third, do you need 90-degree or 180-degree jacks?
What Category of Keystone Jacks Do I Need?
Category 3 cable was first released in 1983 as a big improvement over straight (untwisted-pair) cable, and quickly became the standard for telephone equipment. In 1995, Cat5 was launched to address LAN connectivity and since then, as data speed and bandwidth has increased, we’ve seen Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7 and beyond.
Two of the most popular categories are Cat5e and Cat6. Cat5e is the minimum standard unshielded twisted-pair cabling used for LAN drops and performs up to 100Mhz. Cat6 performs up to 250Mhz and features more stringent specs for cross-talk and system noise. Both Cat5e and Cat6 can be used at a cable length of up to 100 meters.
To ensure that your cable performs to its maximum specifications, your keystone jacks should match the category of your cable. However, some categories are backwards-compatible. You will get maximum performance from a Cat5e cable with a Cat6 jack, but a Cat6 cable with a Cat5e jack will still run at the slower Cat5e speeds.
Should My Keystone Jacks Be Shielded or Unshielded?
When a cable is shielded, a conductive foil or braid covers its insulated wires. The shielding on a keystone jack is typically made of die-cast aluminum. For both cables and jacks, shields provide electrical grounding and protection from external electromagnetic interference (EMI). They also control internal electromagnetic radiation.
Whether or not you need shielding depends on the environment your cables are used in. Most installations, such as those in homes and most commercial buildings, use unshielded components because there is no EMI present. But if your installation is in a busy industrial setting such as a manufacturing plant, in a large data center or near an airport or a radio station, shielding is probably necessary.
Keep in mind that if you have shielded cables your connectors and patch panels should also be shielded.
Should I Use 90-Degree or 180-Degree Keystone Jacks?
The two main designs for keystone jacks are 90-degree and 180-degree. The designations have to do with how the back end of the jack is configured. The “degree” referred to here is the angle at which a network cable is punched down into a keystone jack and RJ45 plug. A 90-degree punch-down means the network cable connects coming down into the top of the keystone jack, forming a 90-degree angle. A 180-degree punch-down means the cable connects straight into the back of the keystone jack.
Both angles work well in a variety of installations because they allow you to fit many plugs into small spaces. If the installation is in a server room, with multiple jacks in a blank patch panel, some people prefer the 180-degree jack because installing them is quicker and more convenient. Also, if a 180-degree jack opens at the top, a cable can connect from above, which is handy if the back of the patch panel is against a wall. But if a keystone jack is attached to an external outlet box, it is usually more convenient to use a 90-degree jack.
Speaking of crowded cable environments, be careful to not exceed the manufacturer’s maximum bend radius of your cable. If you bend a cable to, say, a 90-degree angle or more, you might be taking it out of the electrical spec it is designed for. This could lead to data errors, internet connection problems and failure to get the speeds you need.
We hope this helps you make more informed decisions about buying Ethernet keystone jacks. Remember, it’s beneficial to decide three things before you start shopping. First, what category of cables and jacks do you need? Cat5? Cat5e? Cat6? Cat6a? The higher the number, the faster the data speeds. Second, do you need shielded or unshielded jacks? It depends on whether they will be in a setting where there is a lot of EMI. Third, do you need 90-degree or 180-degree jacks? Both are useful in densely cabled environments, but each has its unique strengths.
You might start your search for Ethernet keystone jacks right here. NavePoint offers over three dozen keystone jacks and adapters, including Cat5e and Cat6 jacks in both 90-degree and 180-degree configurations and in four colors. For any additional help or advice on what product is best for you, contact the NavePoint sales team!