The differences between Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, and Cat8 Cables
Understanding the installation guidelines for a fresh network or the bill of materials for an existing one might feel like navigating a bureaucratic maze. You’re likely to encounter terms like Cat5, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, and Cat8 – unfortunately, these are not feline references – and determining the performance of your company’s network based on your choice between Cat6 and Cat7 or the depth of your dado trunking boxes can seem overwhelming.
Is there a way to simplify this?
Absolutely, and by the time you’re finished with this article, you’ll also be able to unravel this network cabling mystery! We will explain all the varying cabling standards in use today, along with their advantages and disadvantages, to help you make an educated choice for your business’s data infrastructure.
Before we explore what distinguishes Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, and Cat8 from each other, a brief introduction to data cabling is in order.

Understanding Data Cabling

Data cabling is the lifeline of a company’s network. It forms the core of a business’s networking infrastructure, connecting users and networking equipment. Its generic name belies its importance, as it originates from a time when “data” was a relatively small part of the overall picture.

Historically, there were distinct cabling standards for telephone circuits, surveillance systems, and high-end audio/video applications. “Data” cabling was reserved for transferring limited digital data, predominantly in accounting and logistics departments.

However, in contemporary installations, this is no longer the case. Digital technologies such as VoIP, digital CCTV cameras, and high-definition content have largely replaced their analogue counterparts, and they all utilise data cabling. This is why it’s critical: the performance, security, and customer data protection of a company’s network partly depend on the accurate design and installation of its network’s data cabling.

Why Are Data Cabling Standards Crucial?

Considering that the experts at TIA felt the need for standards like Cat5 and Cat6, and even Cat6a, it’s reasonable to question their significance.
Aren’t all cables the same? Does the choice between Cat6 and Cat7 really make a difference?
From a user’s perspective, cabling standards differ in three key ways:
– Distance
– Speed
– Installation requirements
The choice of standard determines the distance data can travel, the speed of data transmission, and the installation constraints.
Distance and speed are straightforward. For example, Cat6 cables can transmit data at 1 Gbit/s over distances of up to 100 metres, and at 10 Gbit/s over distances of up to 55 metres.
Installation requirements are a bit more nuanced. For example, some cabling standards use thick shielding to withstand harsh environments, like industrial spaces.
The choice of cabling standard is not merely important – it’s vital. And not just for the performance of a network, but also concerning its installation.
Choosing the right cabling standards depends not only on the switch and router speeds, but also on the distance that an installation needs to cover, the specifics of the building or campus it’s installed in, surrounding equipment, and more.

Cat5, Cat6, Cat7, and Cat8: Cabling  – Standards Overview

When comparing the different categories of Ethernet cables – Cat5, Cat5a, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, Cat7a, and Cat8 – there are a few key aspects to consider. One of the main factors is how each type performs in terms of speed and range.

There’s a clear trend in the evolution of these cables: each successive generation has sought to increase both speed and range. Cat8 is somewhat different in that it was designed from the outset for specialised use in data centres, targeting the kinds of distances typically found in these environments. However, Cat8 has also been adopted in settings outside of data centres that require high bandwidth, such as AV editing or CAD (Computer-Aided Design).
Here’s a comparison of these cable types for different data speeds over a distance of up to 100 metres:
– Cat5, Cat5a, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, Cat7a, and Cat8 can all support 10/100 Mbps.
– For 1 Gbit/s, all but the original Cat5 support this speed.
– For 10 Gbit/s, only Cat6 (up to 55m), Cat6a, Cat7, Cat7a, and Cat8 can handle this speed.
– Finally, for 25 Gbit/s and 40 Gbit/s, only Cat8 is suitable, but only up to 30 metres.

Selecting the appropriate cabling for specific applications can pose a dilemma. It might seem like a good idea to go for the “latest” version to ensure it’s the best. However, this could end up being needlessly expensive and even overkill for certain applications. Therefore, it’s crucial to carefully consider the specific requirements of each application before deciding on the type of cable to install. This will ensure the most cost-effective and efficient solution.
This comprehensive comparison of Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, and Cat8 cables provides important insights into their potential uses and benefits.

General office use
For general office use, Cat6 is a solid option that delivers reliable performance for most typical business applications. However, if your office requires high-speed data transfer over long distances or you’re concerned about electromagnetic interference, Cat7 might be worth considering. Keep in mind that Cat7 cables were initially developed for use with GG45 or TERA connectors, which are not quite like the typical connectors you see on office equipment.
For a network upgrade or new network deployment, Cat6a is the recommended option. Despite Cat5e’s serviceability, it’s becoming outdated and should be replaced wherever possible.

Home and entertainment use
For home and entertainment use, Cat6a is usually sufficient. Cat7 may offer some benefits in high-demand environments, but these are typically negligible unless your equipment specifically requires Cat7 cables.

Data centre use
In data centres, Cat8 is generally the better choice due to its speed and future-proof capabilities. Cat7, with its complicated history and lacking an official blessing for 25 Gbit/s and 40 Gbit/s standards, usually doesn’t make sense in these environments.

Specialised applications
In specialised applications, the choice between Cat7 and Cat8 will often be dictated by the specific equipment that needs to be installed. Ensuring termination continuity is crucial in these situations.

Factors affecting cable standards
When choosing a cabling standard, performance and installation area, price and availability, and future developments in data cabling standards should be considered. Remember, your network is only as fast as your slowest component, so choosing the right cables is key to optimal performance.
The right cabling choice depends on your specific needs and circumstances. If you need assistance, professionals with experience in data cabling installations, like Kevtel, can provide valuable guidance.

Choosing cables according to performance and application
When it comes to choosing the right cabling standard, including Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, and Cat8 cables, the key factor to consider is performance. Your network’s speed is limited by the capabilities of your cables and terminators. For instance, even if you have a high-end network switch with a 40 Gbit/s port, a 100-meter Cat6 cable will not deliver a 40 Gbit/s connection.

However, remember that cable performance is a limiting factor, not an enabling one. If your network equipment supports a maximum speed of 1 Gbit/s, using Cat8 cables won’t make it run faster. The rule of thumb is to choose a network performance level that will meet your needs for slightly longer than your most optimistic long-term plans. This approach future-proofs your network and prevents it from becoming a bottleneck, all while avoiding unnecessary upfront costs.
Installation constraints are also important to consider. For example, each type of cable has a maximum bend radius that must be respected, and even well-shielded cables can experience interference from strong sources.

The price and availability
As for the cost and availability, generally, the price increases from Cat5 to Cat8. However, advancements in manufacturing technology have minimised the price difference between Cat6 vs Cat6a and cat6a vs cat 7. While Cat7 and Cat8 cables are more expensive, their superior performance in data centre applications often justifies their cost. When considering Cat7, it’s important to weigh its benefits against Cat6a, given its complicated compatibility issues and limited availability.

Data cabling future standards
Looking to the future of data cabling standards, Cat5 is now considered obsolete and is mainly used for legacy equipment. Meanwhile, devices compatible with Cat6a are expected to be available for the foreseeable future. It’s worth noting that the cabling industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s driven by the broader technological landscape, including trends in networking and the internet.

For example, even if you’re not currently using Cat8-compatible equipment, you might need to in the future if you’re planning to migrate to a private cloud infrastructure or if more of your critical business applications are shifting to the data centre. Conversely, if your business primarily operates in an office setting and is expected to scale horizontally, the Cat6a cables you’re using today may still be sufficient in five years.

Navigating the complexities of technological developments between Cat5, Cat6, Cat7, and Cat8 over the past two decades can be challenging. But you don’t have to decipher the differences between these cables or decide which to install by yourself.

Companies like Telkev have been installing data cabling throughout Sussex including Brighton, Hove, Worthing and Eastbourne since the time when Cat5 was the newest technology, and they continue to stay updated on the latest developments in the field.  So give us a call and let’s see how we can help you! Phone us on either 01273 682937 or 07707 629440 for some friendly advice and a no obligation quote.

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