Cable & Connector Terminology
There are many different terms and acronyms that get thrown around within the cable industry. While most of these terms are not necessarily need-to-know, the information can be useful to have. In some cases, the information is need-to-know, like when someone is trying to figure out what type of power cord they need. This article will highlight some of the more common industry terms while providing quick, easy to understand definitions.
The list below is provided in alphabetical order.
¼”: A thicker audio connector commonly used on heavy equipment such as amplifiers and instruments. Available in a few different versions, additional details here.
1-15: A two-prong power cord connector used on a standard wall outlet.
10-32: A screw thread commonly used with racks, cabinets, and related equipment requiring ¾” screws.
12-24: A screw thread commonly used with racks, cabinets, and related equipment requiring ⅝” screws.
2.5mm: An audio connector formerly used on cell phones that still sees some use on other smaller devices. Available in a few different versions, additional details here.
3.5mm: Also called a ⅛-inch jack or headphone jack. The standard audio jacks used for headphones. Available in a few different versions, additional details here.
5-15: A three-prong power cord connector used on a standard wall outlet.
Active: A device that transmits power. Sometimes external power cables are needed for additional power.
Adapters: Small connectors used to join two cables with non-matching ends. Adapters can be male/male, male/female, or female/female.
Amphenol: Also called telco. Thick cables used to connect many phone lines for telecom applications.
Amplifier: A device designed to attach to cables and increase signal strength.
Amps: Amperes. The maximum electrical charge a cable can use without overheating.
Analog: A type of signal used to transmit audio, video, and other electrical signals. Many modern devices used digital signals instead.
Armored Fiber: A type of fiber optic cable strengthened with a metal sleeve. Commonly used in industrial environments.
Attenuation: Reduction in signal strength.
Attenuator: A device used to purposely weaken signal strength, lowering overpowered signals to manageable levels.
AWG: American Wire Gauge. Measures the thickness of cables and wires.
Balun: A device that converts one type of signal to another and then back again. Used to overcome distance limits on certain types of cables.
Banana Connector: The most common type of connector used with speaker cable.
Bend Radius: The maximum radius (measured in degrees) a cable can bend before the cable becomes damaged and starts suffering signal loss. For most cables, it is 90°.
Binding Post: A speaker port that can accept bare wire or banana connectors.
Bluetooth: Wireless, short-range connections made using UHF radio waves.
BNC Connector: A type of coaxial connector most commonly used with security cameras and amateur radios. Available in both 50 ohms and 75 ohms.
Boot: A rubber cap that covers the end of an ethernet cable to protect the release tab from snagging.
Bulkhead: A connector designed to be mounted directly onto a panel.
C13: A universal power cord connector, used on most computers and televisions today.
Cabinets: Enclosed units used to hold servers, patch panels, and similar equipment in data centers. Provides better security than racks.
Categories: Different ratings of ethernet cable that determines signal speed (Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7). Additional details here.
Clamp: A connector that can be installed without a crimper or compression tool.
Coaxial (Coax) Cable: Cable used to transmit radio frequency signals. Commonly used for televisions, telephones, and radios.
Component: A type of RCA cable using two wires (red and white) for audio and three (red, blue, and green) for video.
Composite: A type of RCA cable using two wires (red and white) for audio and one (yellow) for video.
Compression: A method used to secure a connector to the end of a cable. More durable and secure than crimping.
Conductor: The metal core of a cable that carries the electrical signal.
Connector: Also called a plug. The end piece of a cable that inserts into a port (jack).
Contact: The metal part of a connector that makes contact with the conductor.
Converter: Devices used to translate signals from one type to another (analog to digital, data to video, etc.)
Coupler: A female/female adapter used to connect two male ends together. Commonly used for extensions.
Crimp: A method used to tighten and secure a connector onto the end of a cable by using a crimping tool (crimper). Less expensive but also less effective than compression.
Crossover: Ethernet cables used to directly connect two computers.
Cutter: Also called a stripper. A tool used to remove the jacket of a cable when attaching a new connector.
dB: Decibel. A unit of measurement used for signal gain/loss.
DB9: Also known as RS-232. An older type of cable used for video and data. It is now considered obsolete and has been replaced with newer, more efficient cables.
DC: Also called a barrel connector. A type of round electrical connector used to recharge smaller devices like laptops.
Detangler: A small device that goes between a phone handset and coiled phone cord, spinning the cord around to prevent tangling.
Dielectric: A material (usually plastic) surrounding a conductor that conducts electricity poorly. Designed to stop electrical signals from leaking.
Digital Coax: A type of RCA cable that uses a digital signal, typically colored orange.
Diplexer: A device used to send two inputs to one output. Commonly used to send antenna and satellite to a single television line.
Direct Burial: Cable designed to be buried directly into the ground. Buried cables should be 6-8 inches down and kept at least 6-8 inches away from power lines.
Directional: A cable, coupler, or another device that can only send a signal one-way.
DisplayPort: A digital video cable usually seen on computer monitors.
DLM: Digital Lighting Management. Ethernet cables designed to transmit power and manage energy efficiency.
DMX: A type of XLR cable used for lighting instead of audio.
Duplex: Fiber optic cable with two strands, typically used for short cables and capable of two-way communication.
DVI-A: Analog DVI.
DVI-D: Digital DVI.
DVI-I: DVI compatible with analog and digital signals.
ECore: ShowMeCables in-house brand.
EMI: Electromagnetic interference. Electrical signals that cause interference with other signals.
Ethernet: Cables most commonly used for Internet connections and other data transmission. Also used for low-voltage power.
ETL Listed: Products that meet the testing standards set by Intertek.
Extender: A device used to bypass the maximum length of a cable. Some types are sold and used in pairs.
Extractor: A tool used to remove small pins for rewiring/reworking.
F-type Connector: A screw-on coax connector typically used with televisions. Push-on versions are also available.
Fiber Optics: A cable with a glass core that sends signals using light instead of electricity.
Frequency: Different signal bands that radio signals are transmitted on. Measured in Hertz (Hz).
FTP: Foiled Twisted Pair. Cables containing wires that are twisted together and protected by a foil shield.
Gbps: Gigabits per second. 1 Gbps = 1000 Mbps. A higher standard for Internet speeds, typically only available through hardline connections.
GHz: GigaHertz. Equal to 1 billion Hertz.
Grounding: Connecting devices to the ground to disperse electricity in the event of a power surge.
HDMI: High-Definition Multimedia Interface. A type of digital audio/video cable.
Heat Shrink: A rubbery plastic tube that shrinks when heated, providing an extra layer of protection to cables.
Hertz: Hz. A unit used to measure signal frequencies. Named after the German physicist Heinrich Hertz.
Hook and Loop: A cable tie made from a Velcro-like material.
IEC: International Electrotechnical Commission. An organization that sets the standard on many power cables that are used internationally.
IEEE: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. A professional organization that sets many standards for electronics.
Impedance: A unit of measurement (ohms) showing the ratio of voltage to current in a cable.
Insulation: Material inside a cable used to contain the electrical signal, preventing leakage that would cause signal loss.
Jacket: The outer layer of a cable. The outside of the jacket is usually marked with writing, listing details about the cable.
Jumper Cable: A male to female cable (extension cord).
Kbps: Kilobits per second. The old standard for Internet speeds still used to measure slower uploads/downloads.
Keystone Jack: A small insert used with keystone wall plates, allowing wall plates to be customized with ethernet, 3.5mm, telephone, HDMI, and more.
LAN: Local Area Network. A data network connecting multiple computers and other devices together with hardlines.
Lightning: A charging cable used for iPhones and other small-sized Apple products.
LMR: Also called Low Loss. A type of coax cable designed to have lower loss than older (RG) cables.
Mbps: Megabits per second. 1 Mbps = 1000 Kbps. The current standard for Internet upload and download speeds.
MegaHertz: Equal to 1 million Hertz. The modern bandwidth measurement used for ethernet and television signals.
Micro HDMI: A downsized HDMI used on small devices like cell phones.
Micro USB: A downsized USB used on most Android phones.
Micro USB 3.0: A downsized USB 3.0 used on newer external hard drives. It is a different size and shape than the original Micro USB.
MIDI: Musical Instrument Digital Interface. A cable used to connect electric instruments to computers.
Mini-DIN: Downsized versions of standard DIN connectors. Some Mini-DIN connectors have alternate names, such as PS/2 or S-Video connectors.
Mini DisplayPort: A downsized version of DisplayPort often seen on Macs. Same size and shape but different functionality from thunderbolt.
Mini DVI: A downsized DVI used on older Macs (discontinued by Apple in 2008).
Mini HDMI: A downsized HDMI used on medium devices like tablets.
Mini USB: A downsized USB formerly used on cell phones and still used on some small devices like digital cameras and GPS.
Mini XLR: A downsized version of standard XLR, used on devices where a regular XLR will not fit.
Modular Crimper: A crimper designed to be used with Ethernet or telephone connectors (RJ11, RJ12, RJ45).
NEMA: National Electrical Manufacturers Association. An organization that sets the standards for many power cords used in the U.S.
Network Switch: The Ethernet equivalent of a splitter. Allows for multiple ethernet outputs from a single input.
Ohm: A unit used to measure electrical resistance. Commonly applied to coax cables, which are typically rated 50 or 75 ohms.
Optical: Also called Toslink. A digital audio cable that has replaced 3.5mm on newer TVs and other devices.
Outdoor: Cable jackets designed to hold up against sunlight, rainwater, and other outdoor elements.
Patch Panel: A panel attached to a rack or cabinet, most commonly used to set up ethernet or telephone jacks.
Passive: A device that does not transmit power. Often requires an external power source.
Pinout: The wiring scheme used in cables containing multiple smaller wires.
Plenum: Cable jackets designed for fire resistance that let off non-toxic smoke. Plenum cables are sometimes required in business buildings depending on local fire codes.
PoE: Power Over Ethernet. Ethernet cables capable of transmitting low voltage electricity.
Portable Cords: A power cable designed to be used temporarily.
Prop 65: A California law labeling products containing chemicals that increase the chance of cancer, birth defects, and/or reproductive harm.
PS/2: An older, obsolete type of cable formerly used with a keyboard and mouse. Green PS/2 work with mice and purple PS/2 work with keyboards.
Pulling Eye: A small metal loop put on the end of fiber optic cable. A hook attaches to the pulling eye to easily pull the cable through conduit.
Punchdown: Cables that are pushed down into place using a punchdown tool. Commonly used with Ethernet and telephone wires on keystone jacks and wiring blocks.
PVC: Polyvinyl Chloride. Standard cable jackets designed with basic fire resistance.
Raceway: Solid plastic tubes used to conceal and protect cables.
Racks: Open frames commonly used in data centers to hold servers, patch panels, and related equipment. Provides better airflow than cabinets.
Ratchet Tools: Crimpers and compression tools built with ratchets. Easier to use than manual tools.
REACH: Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals. A regulation in the European Union managed by the European Chemicals Agency, addressing the use of chemical substances and their effects on people and the environment.
Reverse Pinout: Wires that are lined up in opposite configurations on either end of a cable. Used for telephone wall cords for voice (phone) calls.
Reverse Polarity (RP): Male connectors that have holes and female connectors that have pins, the opposite of standard connectors.
RF: Radio Frequency. Electromagnetic signals between 50 MHz and 1 GHz.
RFI: Radio Frequency Interference. Radio signals that cause interference with other signals.
RG: Coax cables designed to US military specifications during WWII. Some versions have been upgraded to LMR (Low Loss) cable.
RG11: A thicker but less flexible version of RG6 used for long cable runs.
RG6: The type of coax cable most commonly used for television coax.
RJ9/RJ22: 4 conductor connectors used on the end of coiled phone handset cords.
RJ11: 4 conductor connectors used on the end of phone wall cords.
RJ12: 6 conductor connectors used on the end of phone wall cords.
RJ45: 8 conductor connectors used on the ends of ethernet cables.
RoHS: Restriction of Hazardous Substances. A directive of the European Union that prevents hazardous materials being used in the manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment.
S-Video: An older video cable used on VCRs and other dated devices. Now considered obsolete.
Shielding: A layer of material added to cables to prevent interference from other electrical and radio signals.
Single mode: A fiber optic cable made using a single strand of fiber.
Snake: Also called a multicore cable. A thick cable that combines multiple cables into a single unit.
Solder Connector: A connector attached to a cable via soldering.
Solid: Conductors made from a single metal line.
Spade Lugs: Also called spade plugs. A type of audio connector used with speaker cable.
Speaker Pin: A thin connector used with speaker cable.
SpeakON: A newer professional-grade audio connector designed to be safer and securer than older types.
Spec Sheet: Specification sheet. A document displaying manufacturing details about a cable such as materials, size, and pinout.
Splitter: A device used to transmit a single input to multiple outputs.
STP: Shielded Twisted Pair. Cables containing wires that are both shielded and twisted together.
Straight Pinout: Wires that are lined up the same way on both ends of a cable. Commonly used on Ethernet and telephone lines used for fax machines.
Stranded: Conductors made from many small metal lines woven together.
Stripper: Also called a cutter. A tool used to remove the jacket of a cable when attaching a new connector.
Surge Protector: A power strip designed to prevent electrical damage during power spikes.
Switch: A device used to transmit multiple inputs to a single output.
T568A: One of two common wiring schemes used on standard Ethernet cables, required by the U.S. government for federal contracts.
T568B: One of two common wiring schemes used on standard Ethernet cables, based off the older AT&T 258A color code.
Tech Flex: A plastic wire mesh tube used to protect cables.
Telco: Also called Amphenol. Thick cables used to connect many phone lines for telecom applications.
Thunderbolt: An updated version of Mini DisplayPort. Proprietary to Apple, it is common on newer Macs.
Toslink: Also called Optical. A digital audio cable that has replaced 3.5mm on newer TVs and other devices.
TP: Twisted Pair. Cables containing wires twisted together with no additional specifications.
Tray Cables: Power cables designed to be laid in trays in industrial settings such as factories.
TRS: An audio cable with 3 conductors, used for stereo audio.
TRRS: An audio cable with 4 conductors, used for stereo audio plus a microphone.
TS: An audio cable with 2 conductors, used for mono audio or standalone microphones.
Twist-On: A connector that attaches to a cable by twisting on.
UHF: Ultra High Frequency. Cover 300 to 3000 MHz.
UL Listed: Products that meet the testing standards set by Underwriters Laboratories.
UltraFlex: LMR (Low Loss) cables designed for extra flexibility.
USB: Universal Serial Bus. A type of data cable most commonly connected to computers, also used for recharging cell phones and similar devices. Details on the various versions available can be found here.
USB-C: The newest ethernet cable, available on some newer cell phones.
USB 2.0: Standard ethernet cables, typically colored black or white.
USB 3.0: Newer ethernet cables, faster than 2.0, typically colored blue.
USB Type B: A square-shaped USB connector, usually used on printers.
UTP: Unshielded Twisted Pair. Cables with wires that are twisted together but unshielded.
VESA Pattern: The holes on the back of televisions used to secure TV mounts. Measured in millimeters.
VFD Cables: Power cables used with Variable Frequency Drives, adjustable speed drives used with electro-mechanical systems.
VGA: Video Graphics Array. An older, analog video cable formerly used on computers and related devices. Largely replaced by HDMI and other digital video cables today.
VHF: Very High Frequency. Covers 30 to 300 MHz.
Wall Plate: A plastic or metal fixture attached to a wall to hold electrical outlets, keystone outlets, decora inserts, and more.
WEEE: Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. A European Community Directive overseeing the recycling of electronics.
Wire Splice: Small sleeves used to connect two thin wires without tools.