Electrical cable

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Electrical cable diagram Leitungsende Abisoliert en.svg
Electrical cable diagram
Flexible mains cable with three 2.5 mm solid copper conductors Electric guide 3x2.5 mm.jpg
Flexible mains cable with three 2.5 mm solid copper conductors

An electrical cable is an assembly of one or more wires running side by side or bundled, which is used to carry electric current.

Wire single, usually cylindrical, flexible strand or rod of metal

A wire is a single, usually cylindrical, flexible strand or rod of metal. Wires are used to bear mechanical loads or electricity and telecommunications signals. Wire is commonly formed by drawing the metal through a hole in a die or draw plate. Wire gauges come in various standard sizes, as expressed in terms of a gauge number. The term wire is also used more loosely to refer to a bundle of such strands, as in "multistranded wire", which is more correctly termed a wire rope in mechanics, or a cable in electricity.

Electric current flow of electric charge

An electric current is the rate of flow of electric charge past a point or region. An electric current is said to exist when there is a net flow of electric charge through a region. In electric circuits this charge is often carried by electrons moving through a wire. It can also be carried by ions in an electrolyte, or by both ions and electrons such as in an ionized gas (plasma).


A cable assembly is the composition of one or more electrical cables and their corresponding connectors. [1] A cable assembly is not necessarily suitable for connecting two devices but can be a partial product (e.g. to be soldered onto a printed circuit board with a connector mounted to the housing). Cable assemblies can also take the form of a cable tree or cable harness, used to connect many terminals together.

Printed circuit board Board to support and connect electronic components

A printed circuit board (PCB) mechanically supports and electrically connects electronic components or electrical components using conductive tracks, pads and other features etched from one or more sheet layers of copper laminated onto and/or between sheet layers of a non-conductive substrate. Components are generally soldered onto the PCB to both electrically connect and mechanically fasten them to it.

Cable lacing method for tying wiring harnesses and cable looms

Cable lacing is a method for tying wiring harnesses and cable looms, traditionally used in telecommunication, naval, and aerospace applications. This old cable management technique, taught to generations of linemen, is still used in some modern applications since it does not create obstructions along the length of the cable, avoiding the handling problems of cables groomed by plastic or hook-and-loop cable ties.

Cable harness assembly of electrical cables or wires which transmit signals or electrical power

A cable harness, also known as a wire harness, cable assembly, wiring assembly or wiring loom, is an assembly of electrical cables or wires which transmit signals or electrical power. The cables are bound together by a durable material such as rubber, vinyl, electrical tape, conduit, a weave of extruded string, or a combination thereof.


The term cable originally referred to a nautical line of specific length where multiple ropes are combined to produce a strong thick line that was used to anchor large ships. As electric technology developed, people changed from using bare copper wire to using groupings of wires and various sheathing and shackling methods that resembled the mechanical cabling so the term was adopted for electrical wiring. In the 19th century and early 20th century, electrical cable was often insulated using cloth, rubber or paper. Plastic materials are generally used today, except for high-reliability power cables. The term has also come to be associated with communications because of its use in electrical communications.

Rope linear collection of plies, yarns or strands which are twisted or braided together

A rope is a group of yarns, plies, fibers or strands that are twisted or braided together into a larger and stronger form. Ropes have tensile strength and so can be used for dragging and lifting. Rope is thicker and stronger than similarly constructed cord, string, and twine.

Electrical wiring electrical installation of cabling and associated devices such as switches in a structure

Electrical wiring is an electrical installation of cabling and associated devices such as switches, distribution boards, sockets, and light fittings in a structure.

Modern applications

6 inch (15 cm) outside diameter, oil-cooled cables, traversing the Grand Coulee Dam throughout. An example of a heavy cable for power transmission. 6 inch cable.jpg
6 inch (15 cm) outside diameter, oil-cooled cables, traversing the Grand Coulee Dam throughout. An example of a heavy cable for power transmission.

Electrical cables are used to connect two or more devices, enabling the transfer of electrical signals or power from one device to the other. Cables are used for a wide range of purposes, and each must be tailored for that purpose. Cables are used extensively in electronic devices for power and signal circuits. Long-distance communication takes place over undersea cables. Power cables are used for bulk transmission of alternating and direct current power, especially using high-voltage cable. Electrical cables are extensively used in building wiring for lighting, power and control circuits permanently installed in buildings. Since all the circuit conductors required can be installed in a cable at one time, installation labor is saved compared to certain other wiring methods.

A power cable is an electrical cable, an assembly of one or more electrical conductors, usually held together with an overall sheath. The assembly is used for transmission of electrical power. Power cables may be installed as permanent wiring within buildings, buried in the ground, run overhead, or exposed.

High-voltage cable electric cable designed for use with high voltage (~ over 1 kV)

A high-voltage cable is a cable used for electric power transmission at high voltage. A cable includes a conductor and insulation, and is suitable for being run underground or underwater. This is in contrast to an overhead line, which does not have insulation. High-voltage cables of differing types have a variety of applications in instruments, ignition systems, and alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) power transmission. In all applications, the insulation of the cable must not deteriorate due to the high-voltage stress, ozone produced by electric discharges in air, or tracking. The cable system must prevent contact of the high-voltage conductor with other objects or persons, and must contain and control leakage current. Cable joints and terminals must be designed to control the high-voltage stress to prevent breakdown of the insulation. Often a high-voltage cable will have a metallic shield layer over the insulation, connected to the ground and designed to equalize the dielectric stress on the insulation layer.

Physically, an electrical cable is an assembly consisting of one or more conductors with their own insulations and optional screens, individual covering(s), assembly protection and protective covering(s). Electrical cables may be made more flexible by stranding the wires. In this process, smaller individual wires are twisted or braided together to produce larger wires that are more flexible than solid wires of similar size. Bunching small wires before concentric stranding adds the most flexibility. Copper wires in a cable may be bare, or they may be plated with a thin layer of another metal, most often tin but sometimes gold, silver or some other material. Tin, gold, and silver are much less prone to oxidation than copper, which may lengthen wire life, and makes soldering easier. Tinning is also used to provide lubrication between strands. Tinning was used to help removal of rubber insulation. Tight lays during stranding makes the cable extensible (CBA – as in telephone handset cords).[ further explanation needed ]

Copper conductor

Copper has been used in electrical wiring since the invention of the electromagnet and the telegraph in the 1820s. The invention of the telephone in 1876 created further demand for copper wire as an electrical conductor.

Tin Chemical element with atomic number 50

Tin is a chemical element with the symbol Sn (from Latin: stannum) and atomic number 50. Tin is a silvery metal that characteristicly has a faint yellow hue. Tin, like indium, is soft enough to be cut without much force. When a bar of tin is bent the so-called "tin cry" can be heard as a result of sliding tin crystals reforming; this trait is shared by indium, cadmium and frozen mercury. Pure tin after solidifying keeps a mirror-like appearance similar to most metals, however most Tin alloys such as in Pewter, the metal solidifies with a dull gray color. Tin is a post-transition metal in group 14 of the periodic table of elements. It is obtained chiefly from the mineral cassiterite, which contains stannic oxide, SnO2. Tin shows a chemical similarity to both of its neighbors in group 14, germanium and lead, and has two main oxidation states, +2 and the slightly more stable +4. Tin is the 49th most abundant element and has, with 10 stable isotopes, the largest number of stable isotopes in the periodic table, thanks to its magic number of protons. It has two main allotropes: at room temperature, the stable allotrope is β-tin, a silvery-white, malleable metal, but at low temperatures, it transforms into the less dense grey α-tin, which has the diamond cubic structure. Metallic tin does not easily oxidize in air.

Gold Chemical element with atomic number 79

Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and atomic number 79, making it one of the higher atomic number elements that occur naturally. In its purest form, it is a bright, slightly reddish yellow, dense, soft, malleable, and ductile metal. Chemically, gold is a transition metal and a group 11 element. It is one of the least reactive chemical elements and is solid under standard conditions. Gold often occurs in free elemental (native) form, as nuggets or grains, in rocks, in veins, and in alluvial deposits. It occurs in a solid solution series with the native element silver and also naturally alloyed with copper and palladium. Less commonly, it occurs in minerals as gold compounds, often with tellurium.

Cables can be securely fastened and organized, such as by using trunking, cable trays, cable ties or cable lacing. Continuous-flex or flexible cables used in moving applications within cable carriers can be secured using strain relief devices or cable ties.

Cable tray Electrical cable supporting structure

In the electrical wiring of buildings, a cable tray system is used to support insulated electrical cables used for power distribution, control, and communication. Cable trays are used as an alternative to open wiring or electrical conduit systems, and are commonly used for cable management in commercial and industrial construction. They are especially useful in situations where changes to a wiring system are anticipated, since new cables can be installed by laying them in the tray, instead of pulling them through a pipe.

Cable tie fastener for electrical cable

A cable tie is a type of fastener, for holding items together, primarily electrical cables or wires. Because of their low cost and ease of use, cable ties are ubiquitous, finding use in a wide range of other applications. Stainless steel versions, either naked or coated with a rugged plastic, cater for exterior applications and hazardous environments.

Flexible cable

Flexible cables, or 'continuous-flex' cables, are electrical cables specially designed to cope with the tight bending radii and physical stress associated with moving applications, such as inside cable carriers.

At high frequencies, current tends to run along the surface of the conductor. This is known as the skin effect.

Fire test in Sweden, showing fire rapidly spreading through the burning of cable insulation, a phenomenon of great importance for cables used in some installations. Cable tray fire sweden.jpg
Fire test in Sweden, showing fire rapidly spreading through the burning of cable insulation, a phenomenon of great importance for cables used in some installations.
500,000 circular mil (254 mm ) single conductor power cable 500mcm cable jacket marking.jpg
500,000 circular mil (254 mm ) single conductor power cable

Cables and electromagnetic fields

Coaxial cable Coaxial cable cutaway.svg
Coaxial cable
Twisted pair cabling USB Twisted Pair.svg
Twisted pair cabling

Any current-carrying conductor, including a cable, radiates an electromagnetic field. Likewise, any conductor or cable will pick up energy from any existing electromagnetic field around it. These effects are often undesirable, in the first case amounting to unwanted transmission of energy which may adversely affect nearby equipment or other parts of the same piece of equipment; and in the second case, unwanted pickup of noise which may mask the desired signal being carried by the cable, or, if the cable is carrying power supply or control voltages, pollute them to such an extent as to cause equipment malfunction.

The first solution to these problems is to keep cable lengths in buildings short since pick up and transmission are essentially proportional to the length of the cable. The second solution is to route cables away from trouble. Beyond this, there are particular cable designs that minimize electromagnetic pickup and transmission. Three of the principal design techniques are shielding, coaxial geometry, and twisted-pair geometry.

Shielding makes use of the electrical principle of the Faraday cage. The cable is encased for its entire length in foil or wire mesh. All wires running inside this shielding layer will be to a large extent decoupled from external electrical fields, particularly if the shield is connected to a point of constant voltage, such as earth or ground. Simple shielding of this type is not greatly effective against low-frequency magnetic fields, however - such as magnetic "hum" from a nearby power transformer. A grounded shield on cables operating at 2.5 kV or more gathers leakage current and capacitive current, protecting people from electric shock and equalizing stress on the cable insulation.

Coaxial design helps to further reduce low-frequency magnetic transmission and pickup. In this design the foil or mesh shield has a circular cross section and the inner conductor is exactly at its center. This causes the voltages induced by a magnetic field between the shield and the core conductor to consist of two nearly equal magnitudes which cancel each other.

A twisted pair has two wires of a cable twisted around each other. This can be demonstrated by putting one end of a pair of wires in a hand drill and turning while maintaining moderate tension on the line. Where the interfering signal has a wavelength that is long compared to the pitch of the twisted pair, alternate lengths of wires develop opposing voltages, tending to cancel the effect of the interference.

Fire protection

In building construction, electrical cable jacket material is a potential source of fuel for fires. To limit the spread of fire along cable jacketing, one may use cable coating materials or one may use cables with jacketing that is inherently fire retardant. The plastic covering on some metal clad cables may be stripped off at installation to reduce the fuel source for fires. Inorganic coatings and boxes around cables safeguard the adjacent areas from the fire threat associated with unprotected cable jacketing. However, this fire protection also traps heat generated from conductor losses, so the protection must be thin.

To provide fire protection to a cable, the insulation is treated with fire retardant materials, or non-combustible mineral insulation is used (see Mineral-insulated copper-clad cable).


A 250 V, 16 A electrical cable on a reel. ElectricWireOnReel.JPG
A 250 V, 16 A electrical cable on a reel.

Codes and colours

CENELEC HD 361 is a ratified standard published by CENELEC, which relates to wire and cable marking type, whose goal is to harmonize cables. Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN, VDE) has released a similar standard (DIN VDE 0292).

Hybrid cables

Hybrid optical and electrical cables can be used in wireless outdoor fiber-to-the-antenna (FTTA) applications. In these cables, the optical fibers carry information, and the electrical conductors are used to transmit power. These cables can be placed in several environments to serve antenna mounted on poles, towers or other structures. Local safety regulations may apply.

See also

Related Research Articles

In telecommunications and professional audio, a balanced line or balanced signal pair is a transmission line consisting of two conductors of the same type, each of which have equal impedances along their lengths and equal impedances to ground and to other circuits. The chief advantage of the balanced line format is good rejection of external noise when fed to a differential amplifier. Common forms of balanced line are twin-lead, used for radio frequency signals and twisted pair, used for lower frequencies. They are to be contrasted to unbalanced lines, such as coaxial cable, which is designed to have its return conductor connected to ground, or circuits whose return conductor actually is ground. Balanced and unbalanced circuits can be interconnected using a transformer called a balun.

Transmission line specialized cable or other structure designed to carry alternating current of radio frequency

In radio-frequency engineering, a transmission line is a specialized cable or other structure designed to conduct alternating current of radio frequency, that is, currents with a frequency high enough that their wave nature must be taken into account. Transmission lines are used for purposes such as connecting radio transmitters and receivers with their antennas, distributing cable television signals, trunklines routing calls between telephone switching centres, computer network connections and high speed computer data buses.

Transmission medium material substance that can propagate energy waves

A transmission medium is something that can mediate the propagation of signals for the purposes of telecommunication.

Coaxial cable A type of electrical cable with an inner conductor surrounded by concentric insulating layer and conducting shield

Coaxial cable, or coax is a type of electrical cable that has an inner conductor surrounded by a tubular insulating layer, surrounded by a tubular conducting shield. Many coaxial cables also have an insulating outer sheath or jacket. The term coaxial comes from the inner conductor and the outer shield sharing a geometric axis. Coaxial cable was invented by English physicist, engineer, and mathematician Oliver Heaviside, who patented the design in 1880.

Twisted pair wiring in which two conductors of a circuit are twisted together to improve electromagnetic compatibility

Twisted pair cabling is a type of wiring in which two conductors of a single circuit are twisted together for the purposes of improving electromagnetic compatibility. Compared to a single conductor or an untwisted balanced pair, a twisted pair reduces electromagnetic radiation from the pair and crosstalk between neighboring pairs and improves rejection of external electromagnetic interference. It was invented by Alexander Graham Bell.


A balun is an electrical device that converts between a balanced signal and an unbalanced signal. A balun can take many forms and may include devices that also transform impedances but need not do so. Transformer baluns can also be used to connect lines of differing impedance. Sometimes, in the case of transformer baluns, they use magnetic coupling but need not do so. Common-mode chokes are also used as baluns and work by eliminating, rather than ignoring, common mode signals.

Electrical wiring in North America follows regulations and standards for installation of building wiring which ultimately provides mains electricity.

In an electrical system, a ground loop or earth loop occurs when two points of a circuit both intended to be at ground reference potential have a potential between them. This can be caused, for example, in a signal circuit referenced to ground, if enough current is flowing in the ground to cause two points to be at different potentials.

Overhead power line above-ground structure for bulk transfer and distribution of electricity

An overhead power line is a structure used in electric power transmission and distribution to transmit electrical energy across large distances. It consists of one or more conductors suspended by towers or poles. Since most of the insulation is provided by air, overhead power lines are generally the lowest-cost method of power transmission for large quantities of electric energy.

Differential signaling method for electrically transmitting information using two complementary signals

Differential signaling is a method for electrically transmitting information using two complementary signals. The technique sends the same electrical signal as a differential pair of signals, each in its own conductor. The pair of conductors can be wires or traces on a circuit board. The receiving circuit responds to the electrical difference between the two signals, rather than the difference between a single wire and ground. The opposite technique is called single-ended signaling. Differential pairs are usually found on printed circuit boards, in twisted-pair and ribbon cables, and in connectors.

Shielded cable electrical conductors enclosed by a conductive layer

A shielded cable or screened cable is an electrical cable of one or more insulated conductors enclosed by a common conductive layer. The shield may be composed of braided strands of copper, a non-braided spiral winding of copper tape, or a layer of conducting polymer. Usually this shield is covered with a jacket.

Unbalanced line

In electrical engineering, an unbalanced line is a transmission line, often coaxial cable, whose conductors have unequal impedances with respect to ground; as opposed to a balanced line. Microstrip and single-wire lines are also unbalanced lines.

Knob-and-tube wiring Type of electrical wiring

Knob-and-tube wiring is an early standardized method of electrical wiring in buildings, in common use in North America from about 1880 to the early 1940s. It consisted of single-insulated copper conductors run within wall or ceiling cavities, passing through joist and stud drill-holes via protective porcelain insulating tubes, and supported along their length on nailed-down porcelain knob insulators. Where conductors entered a wiring device such as a lamp or switch, or were pulled into a wall, they were protected by flexible cloth insulating sleeving called loom. The first insulation was asphalt-saturated cotton cloth, then rubber became common. Wire splices in such installations were twisted together for good mechanical strength, then soldered and wrapped with rubber insulating tape and friction tape, or made inside metal junction boxes.

Surge arrester

A surge arrester is a device to protect electrical equipment from over-voltage transients caused by external (lightning) or internal (switching) events. Also called a surge protection device (SPD) or transient voltage surge suppressor (TVSS), this class of device is used to protect equipment in power transmission and distribution systems. The energy criterion for various insulation material can be compared by impulse ratio. A surge arrester should have a low impulse ratio, so that a surge incident on the surge arrester may be bypassed to the ground instead of passing through the apparatus.

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  1. "What Is a Cable Assembly?". wiseGEEK. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  2. 1 2 "Electrical Wiring FAQ (Part 2 of 2)Section - What is Romex/NM/NMD? What is BX? When should I use each?". faqs.org.

Further reading