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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 we thought our post “Cat5e, 6, 6a! What network do I choose right now?” Could do with an update:

If your in the market for new data points, you maybe asking………….

Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, Cat8 infographic showing network differencesSince the original post demand for Cat 7 & 7a applications has increased and the brand new Cat8 standard introduced

What cabling type do I use for my network installation?

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.

 

Cat5e – 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.

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

 

Cat6 – 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.

Cons – No real speed advantage over a good Cat5e system

 

Cat6a – Certified for 10 GBit 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 and Cat7a – Certified for 10 Gbit 100x faster than Cat5 this standard was introduced in 2006. Operates at 600 to 1000 MHz and is called a Class F and Fa

Pros – Always shielded with a higher operating frequency than Cat6a

Cons – Relatively expensive, requires 40 to 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

 

Cat8 – Certified for 25 Gbit & 40 Gbit,  250 to 400x faster than Cat5 this standard was introduced in 2016. Operates at 2000 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 to 36 metres. This means it is not intended for office environments. It is for connecting data centre equipment such as server to switch high speed links.

 

Summary

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. In addition for connecting data to CCTV cameras, Telephones and other lower bandwidth devices, Cat5e is the default cable.

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 to give it a marginal advantage.

If outright performance is needed then Cat6a is the choice. However remember the extra expense of larger containment and network gear to run at 10GBit speeds.

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

NOTES

We have only covered Unshielded Twisted Pair or UTP for Cat5e & Cat6. Cat6a, Cat7/7a & Cat 8 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.

Cat5e, 6, 6a, 7, 7a or 8! What network do I choose right now? More Than Motorways: The Many Uses of ANPR Technology Arena Shopping Centre Coventry ANPR/CCTV System OTDR Robbie and Lewis complete their Advanced Fibre test and measurement

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