What is hardline cable?

You might have heard of “hardlines.” If you have it’s very likely to be from an action movie, believe it or not. You’ll see a sequence like this:

and you’ll think to yourself, “Hardlines? What’s that?”

Even if you’re a hardcore home theater geek you could be forgiven for not having heard of hardline cable. In fact, it’s something that mostly exists in action movies. It’s sort of like how every time you see someone get off their cell phone in a movie, you hear a touch-tone as they hang up. Phones don’t do that anymore except in the movies.

And that’s the point. Hardlines don’t exist anymore, except in the movies and a few other places.

When copper was king

Until the 1990s most signals were transferred from place to place using gigantic copper cable. Throughout cities and towns, gigantic cables like this ran the telecommunications infrastructure:

Honestly there wasn’t any other way to do it. These copper cables were big and expensive but when you’re moving data from one place to another you needed a big cable to do it.

Starting in the 1990s and going through the last 20 years, a lot of this copper has been replaced by fiber optics. Fiber is less expensive and much smaller and lighter. While it was first introduced in the 1970s, it took a while before it got to the point where it was cheap enough to use everywhere.

Enter: hardline cable

If you have some sort of big facility built before about 1995, you probably have hardline cable in it. Hardline cable looks like regular coaxial cable but it’s about 1.75″ thick! It can carry hundreds of channels of cable TV, or thousands of phone calls, or enough internet capacity for a medium sized office building. It was your only choice back then, and until about 2005 it was still in very common use.

Hardline cable was used for long runs, and would split off to normal RG6 or RG11 cable so it could get where it needed to get. If you think it’s hard to work with RG6, working with hardline cable would give you fits. It’s heavy, and practically impossible to bend. It takes gigantic tools just to put a connector on.

You absolutely can get hardline cable today, as well as the connectors and tools you need. Solid Signal has a lot of hardline accessories available but they are all special order items. It’s just not something in common use today because it’s so much easier and less expensive to work with fiber.

So where do movies come in?

Somehow, scriptwriters still think that large buildings use hardline cables. Maybe that’s because many scripts sit on the shelf for years before being adapted, so it’s natural for them to be a little behind on tech. Maybe it’s because it sounds so much more dramatic to shout “cut the hardline” instead of  “unplug the fiber.” For whatever the reason, you’re still likely to encounter hardlines in action films for some time to come. Luckily for you, that’s likely to be the only place you encounter them.