Patch Cables vs. Ethernet Bulk Cables: What's the Difference?

What is Ethernet?

It is a standard communication protocol used to create Local Area Networks (LAN). Instead of transmitting data wirelessly, Ethernet always transmits data through cables.

Xerox developed Ethernet in 1973, and the standard became commercially introduced in 1980. In 1984, Ethernet became standardized as IEEE 802.3.

What Is an Ethernet Cable?

Ethernet cables enable you to connect your devices to a local area network. We use Ethernet cables because wireless connections are limited by distance. Using these cables also guarantees a more stable and secure internet connection.

That is why they are vital for commercial and residential networks and internet connections.

These cables vary in length, categories, shielding, and other factors.

What Are Ethernet Bulk Cables?

Bulk Ethernet cables are usually sold in 1000 foot rolls. Moreover, you will need to attach connectors manually with a bulk cable. You will want to use Bulk Ethernet cables to build a new network or expand upon an existing setup.


What Are Patch Cables?

A patch cable is a shorter Ethernet cable that manufacturers built with RJ45 connectors on both ends. Whether similar or different, you will want to use these cables when connecting two devices.


The term “Patch” originates from “patch-in.” The term came from old telephone patch boards when the phone operator had to connect two devices using electrical cables.

You will usually find these cables in lengths between 0.5 and 200 feet.

Available Patch Cable Categories

You can identify Ethernet patch cables by the category the manufacturer designed them for. For example, most commercial and residential networks use Cat6, 6A, and 5e patches. However, Category 7 and Category 8 patch cables have become increasingly available.

If you have trouble deciding whether to use a Cat6 or Cat5e cable, keep in mind that Cat6 is backward-compatible. Also, you can use a Category 5e cable in a Cat6 network.

However, if you have to choose, Cat6 patch cables are in your best interest due to a significant increase in transfer speed and bandwidth. Moreover, if you opt for a 5e cable, you may not experience any performance increase—especially if you choose a longer cable.

Types of Patch Cables

Most patch cables that you find are pass through (or straight through) cables. Pass through cables send signals directly from your device to a panel, switch or router. However, crossover patch cables are another type of specialized cable you will encounter.

Instead of connecting two different devices, crossover Ethernet patch cables enable you to connect two similar devices. For instance, connecting one PC to another personal computer. That way, you can simultaneously receive and send data between systems.

You will want to use a straight-through cable when connecting a switch to a router, PC, or server, or if you need to connect a hub to a PC or server.

With crossover cables, you will want to use them when connecting the following:

  • Switch to switch or hub
  • Hub to hub
  • Router to router or PC NIC (network interface controller)

Patch Cable vs. Ethernet Bulk Cables

Throughout this section, we will dive into the differences between a long bulk Ethernet cable and a shorter Ethernet patch cable. Afterward, you can determine which cable is suitable for your desired applications.

Ethernet Cable Design

Since bulk wires extend longer distances, they require a more robust design. That is why you will find solid wire inside of these cables. Conversely, patch cables use a flexible stranded wire, making them less durable than their bulk counterpart.

Read our guide on the differences between solid and stranded Ethernet wires, and you will have a better idea of what we are talking about.

Cable Lengths

You will find that bulk cables usually run in 1,000 feet in length. With patch cables, you will usually find they span from 0.5 feet to 200 feet.

Cable Connectivity

When choosing a bulk cable, you will manually need to attach connectors, which allows you to tailor it to your needs. However, you will use either a T568A or T568B on both ends with a patch cable.

Applications for Each Cable

Since you better understand the differences between each cable, you will need to know what applications these Ethernet cables will optimize.

Patch Cable

You have two choices, crossover and pass through cables. You will want to use crossover cables when connecting similar devices that are close together. Whereas, with straight through cables, you will connect two close devices that are different.

For most scenarios, you will rarely use crossover cables. However, if you end up using these types of cables, you must ensure that you properly mark them to differentiate them from your other cables.

Manufacturers designed these cables to be more flexible than their bulk counterparts, making shorter cables ideal for small spaces. Also, business travelers can use these portable cables when traveling to connect to wired networks in hotels that do not have the best WiFi internet connection.

Bulk Ethernet Cable

Long Ethernet cables are ideal for multi-network applications. For example, they work well when using them inside factories or office buildings. However, you can use them outdoors if they are outdoor graded cables. 

Are You Able to Use a Patch Cable as an Ethernet Cable?

You can use a patch cable as an Ethernet cable. However, you will want to use patch cables for smaller distances. Also, since patch cables have connectors at both ends, you may find difficulty using them as an Ethernet cable due to Ethernet cables often terminating directly to a device interface.

Which Cable Do You Need?

While you can use patch cables a lot, due to the fact that patch cable and Ethernet bulk cables are more or less the same things. We recommend using bulk ethernet cables when working on a network setup. Otherwise, you may not be experiencing the best performance for your system.