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Ethernet Cables: The different types explained

by Stuart Berry July 26, 2019

The number of different types of ethernet cable available can certainly make your head spin at times. Starting with Category 5, (one to four have been given a miss these days!), manufacturers have helpfully categorised them numerically, reaching category 8, at least for the time being..

Cat6 Panel Mount Extension Cable

So let's run through the categories of ethernet cable and look at the principal differences:

Category 5 cable

Category 5 (CAT5) cable is a multi-pair (usually 4 pair) high performance cable that consists of twisted pair conductors, used mainly for data transmission. Basic CAT5 cable was designed for characteristics of up to 100 MHz. CAT5 cable is typically used for LAN Ethernet networks running at 10 or 100 Mbps. An unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) construction makes the cable highly cost-effective for data networks. Category 5e Cable Category 5e (CAT5e) cable, also known as Enhanced Category 5, is designed to support full-duplex Fast Ethernet operation and Gigabit Ethernet.

The main differences between CAT5 and CAT5e can be found in the general spec. The performance requirements have been raised somewhat in the new standard. CAT5e has stricter specifications for Power Sum Equal-Level Far-End Crosstalk (PS-ELFEXT), Near-End Crosstalk (NEXT), Attenuation, and Return Loss (RL) than those for CAT5. Like CAT5, CAT5e is a 100-MHz standard, but it also has the capacity to handle a much greater bandwidth than CAT5. As a recommendation, VPI's selection of CAT5e cables feature Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) construction at extremely good value.

Category 6 Cable

Category 6 (CAT6) cable provides higher performance than CAT5e and features more stringent specifications for crosstalk and system noise. The quality of the data transmission depends upon the performance of the components of the channel. To transmit according to CAT6 specifications, jacks, patch cables, patch panels, cross-connects, and cabling must all meet CAT6 standards.

The image above is a Cat6 Panel Mount Cable

The CAT6 components are tested individually, and they are also tested together for performance. In addition, the standard calls for generic system performance so that CAT6 components from any vendor can be used in the channel. All CAT6 components must be backward compatible with CAT5e, CAT5, and CAT3. If different category components are used with CAT6 components, then the channel will achieve the transmission performance of the lower category. For instance, if CAT6 cable is used with CAT5e jacks, the throughput will perform at a CAT5e level. VPI offers both Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) and Screened Shielded Twisted Pair (SSTP) CAT6 cables.

Category 6a Cable

Category 6a (CAT6a), also known as Augmented Category 6, requires a cable to operate at a minimum of 500Mhz and provide up to 10 Gigabits of bandwidth. The CAT6a standard also includes a new measurement called Power-Sum Alien Crosstalk to 500 MHz. CAT6a cables will reduce the interference on a 10GBASE-T network caused by Alien Crosstalk thereby improving network performance. VPI's selection of CAT6a cables feature Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) construction for cost-effective connections.

Category 7 Cable

Category 7 (CAT7) cable, also known as Class F, requires a cable to operate at a minimum of 600Mhz and provide up to 10 Gigabits of bandwidth. To further reduce interference, CAT7 cable requires individually fully shielded twisted pairs. Screened Shielded Twisted Pair (SSTP), also referred to as Screened Foiled Twisted Pair (SFTP) all but eliminates alien crosstalk and greatly improves noise resistance making it the ideal networking cable in high EMI environments such as power stations, data centers, factories, and hospitals.

Category 8 Cable

Category 8 (CAT8) cable provides higher performance than previous CATx cables. CAT8 cable is designed for operations of up to 2000 MHz. CAT8 cables work with 25/40GBASE-T Gigabit Ethernet, which reduce power consumption and are designed for use in bandwidth intensive data center applications. They are only available in lengths up to 30 meters, and are ideal for use where the distances between units are short. CAT8 cables are backwards compatible with previous Category standards. The cables are shielded (F/UTP, S/FTP or U/FTP). VPI’s selection of CAT8 cables features S/FTP construction for cost-effective connections.

Stuart Berry
Stuart Berry


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