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What is the Difference between Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6A, Cat7, and Cat8 Cables?

Overview

It is often confusing to understand which cable is best to fulfill your data networking requirements. Data cables are one of the most important elements of network infrastructure as they are used to connect various elements and devices within a network. Some of the commonly used networking cable types are Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6A, Cat7, and Cat8. Regardless of the type of cables used, they are made to connect by using a common connector port to link with Patch Panels, Keystone Jacks, Inline Couplers, and Modular Plugs as well as other network elements and devices like PCs, phones, CCTV, printers, routers, etc.

The basic structure of these cables includes 4 pairs of color-coded twisted wires. These twists are important as they are particularly twisted to provide impedance and reduce noise. In some cable types, these twisted pairs are shielded by using foil for additional protection against electromagnetic waves.

Why are they Different?

The primary difference between these cable types lies in their individual:
1. Bandwidth/Frequency
2. Max Data Rate
3. Shielding Method

These specifications are defined by the IEEE 802.3 standard. Here is a comparative table to understand differences quickly:  *UTP: Unshielded Twisted Pair
  *STP: Shielded Twisted Pair

Discuss each of them in Details

Cat5e: The “e” refers to enhanced Cat 5, as it supports full-duplex Fast Ethernet.

Cat6: This cable type is designed for better performance against crosstalks and system noise. In order to achieve Ca6 cabling performance, all other network components such as patch cables, patch panels, RJ45 connectors, etc. should also be Cat6 compatible for optimum network performance.

Cat6A: It supports double the bandwidth in comparison to Cat6, and it is designed to transmit at the rate of up to 10Gbps within a distance of 90m where patch panels are also involved in the network.

Cat7: You may assume Cat7 cable is the upgraded version of Cat5e or Cat6 cable, but Cat7 is not an IEEE cabling standard, it’s a proprietary design that does not have an official standard from the networking industry. It does not use RJ45 connectors, but a proprietary connector.
It has much thicker twisted pair shielding than Cat5e, 6, and 6A. The ISO/IEC 11801:2002 defines its frequency range as 1 – 600 MHz and supports 10GBASE-T transmissions. The Cat7 cable is highly noise-resistant and is considered best for applications in defense, medical and industrial facilities.

Cat8: Cat8 cable is the faster copper cabling alternative to Cat6A. It is the most high-performance cable type available today, but it is rarely used in business centers, and can only be seen in high-end data and technology centers. It uses 2 GHz frequency to transmit at a rate of 25 Gbps and 40 Gbps by using Cat8.1 and Cat8.2 respectively. Though they have a distance limit of 30m to transmit at 40Gbps, beyond that distance transmission speed tends to slow down.

Which Cable Type to Choose?

The answer to this golden question all depends on your requirement, criteria is the speed you need, your budget, total area to be covered, etc. For most usual home/office networking needs, Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6A cabling are sufficient. For medium to large offices where dozens of computers are installed and where large-sized files are transmitted, for example, a software development company or a stock trading company, Cat7 can be considered. It is expensive but totally worth it, considering the nature of work.

Connectors Used for each Type

RJ45, which is an 8P8C connector can be used with Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat8 (Class Ⅰ) cables. Most of the cable types come pre-installed with RJ 45 at both ends, however, if you have purchased the complete bundle of cable, you have to cut the cables to the desired length and then make the wires crimped and connect Standard or Pass Through RJ45 Modular Plugs at the ends. A networking expert will be able to do this for you during the installation process.

RJ45 wiring comes in two variations, T568A and T568B, difference is the sequence of wires. T568A is commonly used for jumpers, while T568B is used for installing wires.

Use of Inline Couplers and Modular Plugs

Any extra connection or joint definitely leads to the introduction of noise, but sometimes there is no option left to avoid them within the network. Hence, it is advised to use only high-quality Inline Couplers as well as RJ45 Modular Plugs.

Unshielded and Shielded Inline Couplers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cat6 and Cat6A RJ45 Modular Plugs

 

Conclusion

By now you must have a fair amount of idea about different cable types, how and where to use each of them, and what other compatible network elements can be added. Now, depending on your exact requirements, you will be able to identify which ones are best for your home/office use. But practically there are a lot of other factors involved which your networking manager will be able to better understand. So, it is always advisable to take consultation from an expert. Moreover, only invest in high-quality network cabling products and other elements certified by authoritative certification organizations, such as UL (Underwriters Laboratories) Listed Patch Panels, Keystone Jacks, Inline Couplers, and Modular Plugs. This will ensure lower downtime and reduction in cross talks and noise, to create high speed and excellent performance data network.

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