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Cat Cabling

All Ethernet cables serve the same basic purpose — to connect devices to networks, like the internet. Not all Ethernet cables are exactly the same, however.

If you’ve ever browsed cables online, you’ve probably noticed that they’re nearly always classified as “Cat-5,” “Cat6e,” or something similar. “Cat” simply stands for “Category,” and the number that follows indicates the specifications to which the cable was manufactured. A general rule of thumb is that the higher numbers represent faster speeds and higher frequencies, measured in Mhz. As is the case with most technologies, newer cables tend to support higher bandwidths, and therefore increased download speeds and faster connections.

Keep in mind that longer Ethernet cables will result in slower transmission speeds, though cables bought for personal use rarely exceed 100 meters; and so are unlikely to experience much speed drop-off.

Below, you can see what each cable type is capable of.

Cat 3 Unshielded 10 Mbps 16 MHz
Cat 5 Unshielded 10/100 Mbps 100 MHz
Cat 5e Unshielded 1000 Mbps / 1 Gbps 100 MHz
Cat 6 Shielded or Unshielded 1000 Mbps / 1 Gbps >250 MHz
Cat 6a Shielded 10000 Mbps / 10 Gbps 500 MHz
Cat 7 Shielded 10000 Mbps / 10 Gbps 600 MHz
Cat 8 Details to be released later

Cat 3 and Cat 5
Both Cat 3 and Cat 5 Ethernet cables are, at this point, obsolete. It’s not unheard of to find Cat 5 cables still in use, but you shouldn’t even think about trying to buy either of these Ethernet cables. They’re slow, and nobody makes them anymore.

Cat 5e
The “e” in Cat 5e stands for “enhanced.” There are no physical differences between Cat 5 and Cat 5e cables, but 5e Ethernet is built under more stringent testing standards to eliminate crosstalk — i.e., the unwanted transfer of signals between communication channels. Cat 5e is currently the most common type of Ethernet, mainly due to its low production cost and ability to support faster speeds than the original Cat 5 cables.

Cat 6
Cat 6 cables support much higher bandwidths than Cat 5 and Cat 5e cables, but they’re also more expensive. Cat 6 cables are more tightly wound than their predecessors and are often outfitted with foil or braided shielding. This shielding protects the twisted pairs of wires inside the Ethernet cable, helping to prevent crosstalk and noise interference. Cat 6 cables can technically support speeds up to 10 Gbps, but can only do so for up to 55 meters.

Cat 6a
The “a” in Cat 6a stands for “augmented.” In comparison to the regular Cat 6 cables, 6a cables support twice the maximum bandwidth and are capable of maintaining higher transmission speeds over longer cable lengths. Cat 6a cables are always shielded, and their sheathing — which is thick enough to eliminate crosstalk completely — makes for a much denser, less flexible cable than Cat 6.

Cat 7
Cat 7 cables utilize the newest widely available Ethernet technology and support higher bandwidths and significantly faster transmission speeds than Cat 6 cables. They’re proportionally more expensive than other Ethernet cables, though their performance reflects their premium price tag. Cat 7 cables are capable of reaching up to 100 Gbps at a range of 15 meters, making them an excellent choice for connecting modems or routers directly to your devices. Cat 7 cables are always shielded and use a modified GigaGate45 connector, which is backwards compatible with regular Ethernet ports.

Cat 7a
Although not widely available and with few supporting networking hardware options, Cat 7a currently offers the highest-specification Ethernet cables you can buy. Although the transmission speed is no different than that of Cat 7, Cat 7a cables offer a more than 50 percent improvement in overall bandwidth, which in certain settings may be useful. They are far more expensive than any other options though, and so they should only really be considered in very niche cases.

Cat 8
Cat 8 cables aren’t yet widely available but may become so in 2019. We can expect them to hit the market with faster maximum speeds and higher maximum bandwidths than Cat 7a cables.

Important Category Cable Properties to Keep in Mind

There are a few key Ethernet cable properties to be aware of when designing a cabling system for your organization. For instance, the length of the cable has a direct impact on both signal distribution speed and bandwidth consumption. As a rule of thumb, shorter cable lengths are better, as the signal quality tends to decrease when traveling over longer distances.

The maximum length before signal degradation begins to occur for Categories 3 through 5e and Category 7 (at 10 Gbps) is 100 meters. For Categories 6 and 6e, the maximum length is 55 meters (at 10 Gbps).

It is also important to understand the distinction between patch and crossover cables. While the two look very much the same, they each perform different roles in a cabling system. A patch cable has the same type of connector at either end and is used for connecting dissimilar devices. A crossover cable features a T568A connector on one end and a T568B connector on the other, and is used to connect similar devices.

Ethernet cables may also contain different types of conductors, which are differentiated by the number of strands of wires within. A solid conductor features only one wire, and is designed for cabling that’s installed behind the walls of a building. As the name implies, stranded conductors consist of several strands of intertwined wires and are best used for crimping into RJ-45 connectors. They are also better suited for patch cabling applications due to their greater flexibility.

Future of CAT Cable

As with virtually all technologies these days, Category cable continues to evolve in order to keep up with the data and video distribution needs of enterprises of all types. The latest incarnation is CAT 8 cable, which was designed to support 25GBASE‑T and 40GBASE-T applications developed under the IEEE 802.3 standard that was approved for publication as of June 2016. CAT 8 cable is capable of supporting 30-meter cabling channels containing a maximum of two connectors.
Specifically developed to help data centres facing tight bandwidth constraints and to facilitate faster network speeds, CAT 8 cable offers a look and “feel” that is similar to its predecessors. Cat 8 cable can be installed using current pathways and conduits. However, some organizations may need to upgrade their infrastructure in order to support 25GBASE‑T and 40GBASE-T applications.

Fibre Installation & Maintenance

Fibre optic (or “optical fibre”) is unique in that, unlike DSL and cable internet services that transmit electrical information through copper lines, fibre-optic lines use tiny strands of plastic or glass (just slightly thicker than a single human hair) to carry binary transmissions of light. Binary is a number system where the combination of only two numbers—0 being “off” and 1 being “on”—represent more complex symbols or instructions. This method of data transmission makes fibre internet the best option for fast speeds and reliability.

SPOC Managed Services can provide our clients with cutting edge technology and our fibre product range is complemented by our other networking products and communication solutions.

The faster people can access the Internet, the more they can—and will—do online. The arrival of the wireless broadband Internet made possible the phenomenon of cloud computing (where people store and process their data remotely, using online services instead of a home or business PC in their own premises).

In much the same way, the steady rollout of optic fibre broadband (typically 5–10 times faster than conventional DSL broadband, which uses ordinary telephone lines) will make it much more commonplace for people to do things like streaming movies online instead of watching broadcast TV or renting DVDs.

With more fibre capacity and faster connections, we’ll be tracking and controlling many more aspects of our lives online using the so-called Internet of Things.