While they may all look the same, not all ethernet cables are created equally, and the one you choose for a home or office network can have a serious impact on connectivity and speed. Whether you know the difference between a CAT 5 and CAT 6 or you thought all cables were the same, our structured cabling company is providing a closer look at the types of ethernet cables available, how they differ, speed, and more, so you can make the right choice for your network needs.
Ethernet Cabling Basics
When we talk about ethernet cabling, these are the cables used to carry signals and connect devices within a network. The type of cable used, as well as its length and quality affects the network signal, so in order to get fast, reliable connections, it’s important to use the ideal cable.
The speed at which an ethernet cable can move a signal is measured in megabits per second (Mbps) or gigabits per second (Gbps). You may see your internet connection measured in Mbps or Gbps – the more Mbps, the faster your internet speed which means the faster you can download data or the ease with which you can stream data or communicate with people via network. A slower connection will take longer, cause pauses for buffering, and drop communications.
However, your internet connection is only as powerful as your ethernet cable. If your ethernet cable can’t move the signal, it doesn’t matter how fast your internet connection is. Think of it like a water hose filling a pool. The water can only move through the hose so fast and the less effective the hose, the longer it takes to fill the pool.
The frequency of ethernet cables is measured in Megahertz (MHz), which are the rate at which a signal can change states, and in networking refers to going from 1 to 0 and back. A 100 MHz network cable can support between 1 and 100 MHz, or up to 100,000,000 changes per second.
Types of Cabling
Ethernet cables for carrying signals are Category cables which have insulated copper wires twisted into pairs within the casing. All Category cables made in the United States must follow guidelines set by the EIA/TIA, or Electronics Industries Alliance/Telecommunications Industry Association. They set the rules regarding standardization regarding virtually every aspect of the cable, specifically the ones used in network signals which are:
- CAT 5E
- CAT 6
- CAT 6E
- CAT 6A
- CAT 7
CAT 5E Cables
CAT 5E cables, or CAT 5 Enhanced is the standard cable currently recognized by the EIA/TIA used in homes and small networks. These are upgraded from the CAT 5 cables because there are four pairs of twisted copper wire within the cable, rather than two pairs. This eliminates crosstalk within the line which can slow down information transmission while increasing overall speed.
The CAT 5E cable has a maximum bandwidth of 1000 Mbps or 1 Gbps over 100 meters, meaning it can transfer a terabyte of data in about three hours. It has a maximum frequency bandwidth of 100 MHz.
CAT 6 Cables
The CAT 6 is an upgraded cable with an outer foil or braided shielding covering the four tightly wound wires. These coverings protect the twisted wires to further prevent interference and crosstalk. While the speed of a CAT 6 cable is faster than the 5e, installation can be more difficult, requiring special adapters to maximize the performance. Like the CAT 5e, the 6 is mainly used for upgraded residential and smaller businesses and organizations.
At 100 meters, the CAT 6 cabling has a max speed of 1 Gbps, same as the CAT 5e, but when length of cable is reduced to 55 meters, the speed increases to max out at 10 Gbps. The frequency also increases to 250 MHz maximum bandwidth.
There’s also a CAT 6E available that is an enhanced version of the standard CAT 6 cable. It’s primarily used for atmospheres of RF interference and can be used for data centers along with home and office networks.
CAT 6A Cables
For a more future-focused connection that will ensure reliably fast data transfer for the long term, the CAT 6a, or augmented, is becoming more available and provides a cost-effective solution. While CAT 6a is not used in homes or small businesses regularly, this is the minimum requirement being chosen for data centers, large offices, and campus-style locations, like colleges and hospitals.
When you are comparing the CAT 6 with the 6a, the difference is seen in cable distance. The CAT 6 can only carry signals at 10Gbps up to 55 meters, the CAT 6a can carry a 10 Gigabit ethernet signal over a single cable up to 110 meters long. When looking at the frequency of a CAT 6a, the maximum bandwidth is 500 MHz.
CAT 7 Cables
The CAT 7 ethernet cable is the newest option on the market, bringing a maximum bandwidth of 600 MHz and a speed of 10 Gbps per second, with a theoretical speed of 40 Gbps. To put it in perspective, a CAT 5e or CAT 6 can transfer 1 terabyte of data in 3 hours. A CAT 7 can transfer the same data in about 20 minutes.
While the CAT 7 is not widely used in homes and small businesses because home networking equipment can’t support CAT 7 frequencies, these thicker, more durable cables are designed for large data centers. It’s important to note that the EIA/TIA does not yet recognize the CAT 7 ethernet cabling standard.
Contact Us for the Right Ethernet Cabling Solutions
If you want to update or upgrade your network or set up a new network, let us design and implement your cabling solutions. With our experience and knowledge, we can ensure you get fast, reliable signals and data so you can work, communicate, and get the most out of your connections.