There are several aspects that all CAT cable variations have in common. Firstly, they all perform the same job, which is to carry signals between equipment in structured cabling system computer networks. They are also all subject to a 100 meter (328 ft.) maximum length. This distance breaks down as 90 meters of solid “horizontal” cabling between the patch panel and wall socket, and up to 10 meters of stranded patch cable between the wall and attached device.
CAT stands for category. The number refers to the iteration of the cable. The cables commonly in use today are CAT5, CAT5e, CAT6, CAT6a and more recently, CAT7, CAT7A and (the much less common) CAT8.
Thanks to the cables all being able to use RJ45 connectors, the variations are backwards compatible and can connect with each other. This means it’s possible to use different types of cable in a single network. It’s important to bear in mind however, that by doing so your network speed will be limited to that of the slowest cable, so we would generally advise against it if the option is available to you.
This ‘enhanced’ version of Cat 5 supports 10 gigabit speeds and with bandwidth up to 200MHz and less interference than its predecessor. As the lowest category cable for gigabit Ethernet it’s a cost-effective solution for applications such as media streaming that need to transmit large datasets.
With a higher signal-to-noise ratio than Cat 5e and bandwidth up to 250MHz Cat 6 is called for where there are multiple and simultaneous network demands, including large data transfers and video conferencing.
With double the bandwidth of Cat 6 (500MHz) and far less interference, Cat 6a comes into its own where a greater distance needs to be covered – handling up to 100 meters compared with a maximum of 55 meters for Cat 6.
Double shielded for maximum interference protection, Cat 7 is considerably more costly but with 600MHz bandwidth it is now the accepted standard for ultra fast Ethernet and an effective way to future-proof your network.
This is the latest & fastest category of Ethernet standard – recommended for critical applications that need maximum headroom for data transmission such as hospitals, government facilities and datacenters.
(Up to) 10GBASE-T
*Depending on the length and type of the cable
In the above table, the “Standard” code refers to the transmission speed (e.g. 100), the type of signal carried on the medium (e.g. BASE, which is Baseband/Ethernet) and the physical medium that carries the signal (e.g. TX/T, which refers to twisted pair cabling).
In addition to the increase in speed and frequency, the main difference between CAT cable versions is the level of crosstalk testing standards. Crosstalk refers to the electromagnetic interference experienced between twisted pair cables that run parallel with one another. This interference can cause intermittent loss of service and will disrupt the proper flow of data.
As the speed increases, so too does the potential for crosstalk. To mitigate this effect, the higher category cable is constructed with a greater number of twists and a thicker diameter sheath, which increases the distance between cables and drastically reduces crosstalk.
When installing newer cables, it’s important to remember that they are wider, and indeed heavier, meaning that fewer should be bundled together to avoid crushing and to better organize your data center.
The question you really need to ask is, how much data am I transmitting? And how fast do I need it to be done? The majority of home cabling installations will be fine with CAT 5 or CAT5e, but businesses that transfer large amounts of information would probably be best with CAT6 and above.
Bear in mind that even with the fastest cables, your network won’t run at that speed unless all your hardware is capable of supporting it. If you want gigabit network speeds, you’ll also need a gigabit-compatible router and gigabit-capable network cards in your PCs, so make sure your equipment is in line with your requirements before you commit to ordering Ethernet cables. It could also be worth doing some research into fiber optic cabling.
With CAT cables, each variation is also slightly more expensive than the last, so be sure to consider your budget.
If you have any further questions or would like to discuss your data cabling needs with a cable installation specialist, please do not hesitate to contact us.