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If you are looking to run Ethernet cable outside between buildings, it can be tempting to just use whatever you have lying around at home, but are they really suitable enough?
Standard Ethernet cable is not waterproof and should not be placed outside. The plastic jacket can resist small amounts of water but the connectors can easily let water in which will damage the internal wiring. Exterior grade Ethernet cable should be used instead when running cable outside.
Let’s take a look at why you may want to even run Ethernet cable outdoors, what the difference between waterproof and weatherproof even is, and the best options for running Ethernet cable outside.
Why Would You Want to Run Ethernet Cable Outdoors?
If you are looking to share a network connection between two or more buildings that are separated by the great outdoors, using a wireless connection like Wi-Fi does seem like the obvious choice.
Wi-Fi is certainly more convenient and you are likely to get everything setup and running in less time, however a wired network connection using Ethernet generally offers faster speeds, is more reliable, and is less susceptible to electromagnetic interference.
You may also find that the distance between the two buildings is too great for a wireless connection to even work. The range of a Wi-Fi signal often isn’t the best, whereas a single run of Ethernet cable can be up to 100m long before you start to run into any issues with signal quality.
If the buildings you are looking to share a network connection between are relatively close together, it is probably worth giving wireless a go first. An example of where this would likely work just fine would be if you want to share your connection with a shed out in your backyard.
Wireless access points these days have a pretty good range, even for Wi-Fi, so placing one of these as close as you can get to the outdoors whilst keeping it indoors may work. You can also get outdoor wireless access points, but you’ll still find yourself needing to run an Ethernet cable outdoors if you go down this route.
My suggestion would be to try a wireless option first as although a wired connection is better in the long run, it can be quite a bit of work to get everything setup and protected from the elements.
If you find wireless doesn’t work, don’t worry as Ethernet cable can be run outdoors; you just need to take a few measures to ensure it is protected.
What Is the Difference Between Waterproof and Weatherproof?
There is an important difference between something that is waterproof and something that is weatherproof, which is definitely worth keeping in mind when you are looking to place anything outdoors.
Devices that are considered to be waterproof have been designed to be submerged underwater and should receive an official IP7 rating to show this.
A lot of devices that can be placed outside won’t be manufactured to such an extent that they are considered waterproof as even in the harshest of weather conditions, they are not being submerged.
If a device that is not technically waterproof does get submerged underwater, water will inevitably be let in which is more than likely going to damage the wiring or components found inside.
If something is waterproof, it means that no water gets in or out.
On the other hand you have weatherproof devices, which are much more commonly found.
These are resistant to the effects of bad weather, like heavy rain, but have not been designed to be submerged in water.
Not only are weatherproof devices cheaper for us to buy as they wouldn’t have needed to go through such rigorous testing procedures, but in a lot of cases, being waterproof simply isn’t a requirement.
Even in some countries that receive torrential downpours on a regular basis, a device that is placed outdoors and considered to be weatherproof is perfectly adequate.
I briefly mentioned IP ratings just now, so wanted to take a moment to explain what they mean in a bit more depth as it could influence which Ethernet cable, or any other outdoor device for that matter, is best for you.
IP rating stands for International Protection Rating but can also be referred to as Ingress Protection Rating.
It consists of the letters “IP” followed by two digits.
The first digit classifies the degree of protection provided against solid objects including hands, nails and dust, whereas the second digit defines the protection from various forms of moisture ranging from drops of condensation to strong jets of water.
If either of the two digits is replaced by an X, this indicates that the enclosure has not been rated for that specification.
It is unlikely that we will remember what each IP rating means, especially with the large number of combinations that exist, so just keep in mind that the higher the number is, the more protection is provided.
I’ve put together a couple of tables to show you the different ratings for both solid objects and moisture. Combine the two to get a complete IP rating.
Digit 1 – Protection provided against solid objects
|0 (or X)||Not rated|
|1||Protection against solid objects larger than 50mm. Includes accidental hand contact but not against deliberate body contact|
|2||Protection against solid objects larger than 12mm, e.g. accidental finger contact|
|3||Protection against solid objects larger than 2.5mm, e.g. wires|
|4||Protection against solid objects larger than 1mm, e.g. nails and screws|
|5||Partial protection against dust and other particulates|
|6||Full protection against dust and other particulates|
Digit 2 – Protection provided moisture
|0 (or X)||Not rated|
|1||Protection against vertically falling droplets, e.g. condensation|
|2||Protection against vertically dripping water when enclosure is tilted up to 15° off vertical|
|3||Protection against direct moisture spray at angles up to 60° off vertical|
|4||Protection against splashing water from any direction, tested for a minimum of 10 minutes with an oscillating spray|
|5||Protection against low-pressure jets (6.3 mm nozzle) of directed water from any angle|
|6||Protection against powerful jets (12.5 mm nozzle) of directed water from any direction|
|7||Protection against full immersion for up to 30 minutes at depths between 15 cm and 1 meter|
|8||Protection against extended immersion under higher pressure|
|9||Protection against high-pressure, high-temperature jet sprays, wash-downs or steam-cleaning procedures|
Is It OK to Run Ethernet Cable Outside?
It is OK to run Ethernet cable outside, be it to connect to an outdoor wireless access point or even provide a network connection to a completely separate building.
You just have to be aware of the type of cable you are using, and ensure it has adequate protection from the weather so it doesn’t get damaged.
Ordinary Ethernet cable that you use inside to provide all of your devices with a wired connection simply won’t cut it outdoors.
It deteriorates quickly and any water getting inside could permanently damage the devices at either end of the cable.
The connector that sits at either end of the cable is definitely not waterproof. Water can easily get in this way and damage the wiring inside.
Waterproof connectors do exist, however I wouldn’t recommend this as there are much better alternatives out there, especially if you are looking to run the cable outside.
The plastic jacket that protects the internal wiring is a little better in that it provides some protection.
Now I’m talking about a very small amount of water here; it is absolutely not waterproof and will not survive if it is submerged underwater.
It also isn’t weatherproof and rated for outdoor use, so shouldn’t be placed outdoors where it is left exposed to the elements
What Are the Options?
So if regular Ethernet cable is out of the question to be used outdoors, what options does this leave you with?
You could continue to use the ordinary Ethernet cable that you have lying around, but just make sure you place it in some form of conduit, such as a plastic pipe that is designed to be weatherproof.
It is important to not place the cable inside the conduit and then leave it exposed trailing along the ground; it should be buried to a sufficient depth whilst avoiding obstacles such as power lines or anything else that can cause electrical interference and affect the cable.
Something to keep in mind, though, even when using a weatherproof conduit, is that they are not perfect and can cause the cable to still fail when the weather is particularly extreme.
Temperatures below freezing can often result in the conduit not holding up, unfortunately.
A better option would be to be specialist Ethernet cable that has been designed specifically for outdoor use.
Now these cables do cost more to buy, but in my opinion are well worth the investment especially if it means you don’t have to keep replacing damaged cable.
Although some of the cheaper outdoor cables feature a PVC jacket, I would recommend those that are made of linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) as they offer better protection from moisture.
These specialist cables have been designed in such a way that they can be placed outdoors without being contained within a form of conduit.
If you decide not to use a conduit, you will need to make sure that the protective jacket is resistant to UV so the cable doesn’t get damaged from exposure to the sun.
A cable that has a LLDPE jacket will likely provide a perfectly adequate amount of protection from all of the elements.
It is better to be safe than sorry, though, so the best option for running Ethernet cable outdoors would be to get a cable that is rated for outdoor use and still placing it in some weatherproof conduit.
Now this may cost a bit more and take a bit of effort to get everything setup and in place, but at least you are providing the cable with as much protection as possible.
It is much less likely to fail and means you don’t have to go through the hassle of doing it all over again should you have tried taking a shortcut previously.
What Is the Best Outdoor Ethernet Cable?
If you are looking for an Ethernet cable to run outdoors, I would recommend this one by Maximm on Amazon.
The cable is Cat6 rated, features a UV resistant LLDPE jacket, and is 150ft long, so is perfect to be placed outdoors.
The jacket is thick and sturdy, so you could probably get away with burying it on its own or even leaving it exposed outside, but again, I would recommend placing it within some weatherproof conduit just to be on the safe side.