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Cat5e, 6, 6a, 7, 7a or 8! What Network Do I Choose Right Now?

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First published in July 2013 and updated in 2017 we felt given the number you YouTube videos on the subject it was time to update the post and give some professional advice.

Since the original post, demand for Cat 7 & 7a applications has increased and the brand new Cat8 standard has been introduced. In addition the IEEE has introduced a new standard 802.3bz which breathes life into old Cat5e and Cat6 cabling type by increasing the maximum speed to 2.5Gbit for Cat5e and 5Gbit for Cat6.


Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a ,Cat8a Comparison diagram

If you’re in the market for new data points, you may be asking…

What cabling type should I use for my network installation?

Cat5e, 6 and 6a are the most commonly used cables to connect ethernet networks. These are short range links primarily to connect devices within buildings. Across all cable types (except Cat8a) the maximum run length is 100 metres. All components within the link must be of the same standard so if you install Cat6a cable you must use Cat6a patch panels and Cat6a modules to ensure the connection will perform as expected.

A typical setup looks like:

  1. A flexible patch cable from the network switch to a patch panel in a data cabinet. This will have male RJ45 connectors and is normally a short stranded core premade cable.
  2. A solid core cable between the patch panel in the data cabinet and the wall outlet. This is know as the permanent link. This should be less than 90 meters long.
  3. A flexible patch lead to the end equipment, PC, wireless access point, etc.


Together all 3 components, patch lead, permanent link and patch lead are know as a channel link. In total this shouldn’t exceed 100 meters. Again for the link to pass testing all components in the channel must be of the same specification. For example if you use Cat5e patch leads but have a Cat6a permanent link then the channel specification becomes Cat5e.

The most common network cabling types are summarised below. For the sake of simplicity, we have not covered the shielded cable specifications for Cat5e & Cat6. For more information on shielded cable, see our post on Shielded Solutions. The brand new standard Cat8 is unlikely to ever be used outside the data centre as the fastest speed is limited to a 30 metre cable run.


The original Cat5 cable standard has been around since 1992. It operates at a frequency of 100 MHz and is specified up to 100 Mbit. Class D Link.

Pros – Price, widely available and simpler to install. Can be used for Gigabyte (1 Gbit) applications if correctly installed and tested. Now runs at up to 2.5 Gbit with the right network equipment

Cons – Old legacy technology. May not always give 1 Gbit performance in every environment. Very little headroom at 1 Gbit.


This is the original Gigabyte Ethernet standard. Operating at 250 MHz. Class E Link.

Pros – Greater immunity to noise and cross talk than Cat5e, guaranteed 1GBit performance. Cheap network cards and switches. Now runs at up to 5 Gbit with the right network equipment

Cons – Usually needs more space in containment as the cable diameter is larger. Takes longer to terminate and test.


Certified for 10 GBit and 100x faster than Cat5, this standard was introduced in 2006. Operates at 500 MHz and is called a Class Ea.

Pros – Fastest copper network currently available over any distance, backwards compatible with Cat5e & Cat6.

Cons – Relatively expensive, requires 40 to 60% more space to contain the cable, expensive network cards and switches. Testing trickier and requires modern test equipment.

Cat7 & Cat7a

Certified for 10 Gbit. 100x faster than Cat5, this standard was introduced in 2006. Operates at 600 to 1,000 MHz and is called a Class F and Fa.

Pros – Always shielded with a higher operating frequency than Cat6a.

Cons – Relatively expensive, requires 40-60% more space to contain the cable, different connections. Testing trickier and requires modern test equipment. No real speed advantage over a good Cat6a system.


Certified for 25 Gbit & 40 Gbit, and 250 to 400x faster than Cat5, this standard was introduced in 2016. Operates at 2,000 MHz and is called a Class II Cat8.2.

Pros – Fastest copper network currently available over any distance, not backwards compatible with Cat5e & Cat6 due to different connectors.

Cons – Relatively expensive, requires 40 to 60% more space to contain the cable, expensive network cards and switches. Testing trickier and requires modern test equipment.

Maximum run length restricted to 30-36 metres. This means it is not intended for office environments. It is for connecting data centre equipment – such as a server – to switch high speed links.


In summary, Cat5e is still a relevant standard. If you are on a budget and don’t anticipate large increase in data demand over the lifetime of the cable then it’s still a sensible choice. Additionally, for connecting data to CCTV cameras, telephones and other lower bandwidth devices, Cat5e is the default cable. The new standard 802.3bz means at 2.5Gbit cat5e has been thrown a lifeline and is now suitable for faster WIFI access point connections.

Cat6 seems to offer little difference for the additional expense. However if the cable runs are long and it’s a noisy environment then this may be worth the extra expense. Also, if you want to run Power over Ethernet (PoE), the slightly thicker wires in Cat6 give it a marginal advantage. The new standard 802.3bz does push Cat6 to 5Gbit so does give it more life and usability

If outright performance is needed then Cat6a is the choice. Also as Cat6a is normally shielded by default it is more immune to electrical noise. If you are thinking about a Cat5e or Cat6 sheilded network its very tempting to jump straight to Cat6a. However be sure to remember the extra expense of larger containment and network gear to run at 10GBit speeds.

Cat7 and Cat7a are cables searching for a purpose. Unless you have a specific use for the extra shielding and higher frequencies then save the money and use Cat6a. These cables won’t give you any extra performance over Cat6a at 10Gbit.

If all of your links are in a data centre environment and under 30 metres, then it may pay to futureproof and flood wire Cat8 links. This will never be installed in an office environment.


We have only covered Unshielded Twisted Pair or UTP for Cat5e & Cat6. Cat6a, Cat7/7a & Cat8 must be shielded. Please be aware that their are many other variants of shielded Cat5e & Cat6 Cable, including FTP / STP or even S/STP, etc. If you need further advice please get in touch.

Need help installing Cat5 or Cat6 cabling? We can help! Get in touch with us today to discuss your needs.

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