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How the 10Base-T cable evolved and its use today

This tip reviews how 10Base-T cable developed and what the elements of the term mean. It also reviews the variations of this cabling type and how they are used now.

The 10Base-T unshielded twisted pair Ethernet and 10Base-2 coaxial Ethernet were very popular in the early to mid-1990s, when 100 Mbps network cards, hubs and switches were very expensive. Prices have dropped so much that most vendors now focus on 100Base networks, although they still support 10Base-T cable and 10Base-2 networks. In this tip, we will also talk about 10Base5/F and 35.

So, what does 10Base-T/2/5/F/35 mean? Cables are categorized to make them simpler to distinguish: That's how we got CAT1, 2, 3 and so on. Each category is specific for the speed and type of network. But since one type of cable can support various speeds, depending on its quality and wiring, the cables are named using the Base-T nomenclature to indicate exactly what type of networks the specific cable is made to handle.

Understanding terminology

Let's break down the term 10Base-T into its three constituent parts to make it easier to understand:

10: The numeral 10 represents the frequency in megahertz (MHz) for which this cable is made. In this case, it is 10 MHz. The greater the MHz, the higher speeds the cable can handle. If you try to use this type of cable for greater frequencies -- and, therefore, speeds -- then it either will not work or will become extremely unreliable. The 10 MHz speed translates to 10 Mbps -- which, in theory, means 1.2 Mbps. In practice, though, you wouldn't get more than 800 kilobits per second.

Base: The word base refers to baseband. Baseband is an Ethernet communications standard that enables a network device to use all of the available bandwidth when it is transmitting. Broadband, by contrast, shares the bandwidth that is available. This is the reason why cable modem users notice a slowdown in speed when they are connected on a busy node, or when their neighbor is downloading all the time at maximum speed. Ethernet also experiences slowdown in speed, but it will be smaller in comparison to broadband.

T: The T refers to twisted pair, the physical medium that carries the signal. This illustrates the structure of the cable and tells us it contains pairs that are twisted. For example, unshielded twisted pair (UTP) has twisted pairs, and this is the cable used in such cases. For more information, see lesson two on straight-through UTB cable, where you can find information on pinouts for the cables.

10Base-T cable

A few years ago, 10Base-T cables used CAT3 cables, which are good for frequencies of up to 100 MHz and speeds of up to 100 Mbps. These cables are also used for 10 Mbps networks. Only two pairs of the UTP cable are used with the 10Base-T cable specification, and the maximum length is 100 meters. Minimum length between nodes is 2.5 meters.


This specification uses coaxial cable, which is usually black and sometimes called thinwire coax, thin Ethernet or RJ-58 cable. Maximum length is 185 meters, while the minimum length between nodes is 0.5 meters. The 10Base-2 uses BNC connectors, which, depending on the configuration, require special terminators.


This specification uses what's called thickwire coaxial cable, which is usually yellow. The maximum length is 500 meters, while the minimum length between nodes is 2.5 meters. Also, special connectors are used to interface to the network card; these are called attachment unit interface (AUI) connectors and are similar to the DB-15 pin connectors that most sound cards use for their joystick/midi port.

Most networks use UTP cable and RJ-45 connectors or coaxial cable with BNC T connectors. For this reason, special devices made their way to the market that allow you to connect an AUI network card to these different cable networks.

The pictures below show a few of these devices:



The 10Base-F specification uses fiber optic cable. Fiber optic cable is considered to be more secure than UTP or any other type of cabling, because it is nearly impossible to tap into it. It is also resistant to electromagnetic interference and attenuation. Even though the 10Base-F specification calls for speeds of up to 10 Mbps, depending on the type of fiber and equipment you use, 2 Gbps throughput is possible.


The 10Base-35 specification uses broadband coaxial cable. It can carry multiple baseband channels for a maximum length of 3,600 meters, or 3.6 kilometers.


Be sure to keep the following in mind:

  • The 10Base-T cable works only for 10 Mbps networks and uses unshielded twisted pair cable with RJ-45 connectors at each end, with a maximum length of 100 meters. This standard only uses two pairs of cables.
  • The 10Base-2 works only for 10 Mbps networks and uses coaxial cable. Maximum length is 185 meters and BNC T connectors are used to connect to the computers; there are special terminators at each end of the coaxial cable.
  • The 10Base-5 works only for 10 Mbps networks and uses thick coaxial cable. Maximum length is 500 meters and special AUI connectors (DB-15) are used to interface with the network card.
  • The 10Base-F works only for 10 Mbps networks and uses fiber optic cable.

Next Steps

Read about the basics of Fast Ethernet

What you need to know about  Gigabit Ethernet  

Learn about the advantages of using fiber optic cables

This was last published in August 2016

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