We tend to think internet speed is a function of the data rate from our internet service provider (e.g., Gigabit internet) and the performance of our router. However, there is another very important component of your home or office network that can affect your network performance, namely the networking cable. You will not realize the full potential of the available internet speed if your network cable is not up to par.
Several types of network cables are available for use: CAT5, CAT5e, CAT6, CAT6a, CAT7, CAT7a, and CAT8. CAT is short for category. The different categories denote different cable standards and each standard guarantees a certain speed at a certain distance.
Category 5 Cable (CAT5)
CAT5 cable is an old cable standard that is now obsolete. It guaranteed that you could pass 100Mbps for 100 meters (328 ft) of cable, which was lightning fast many years ago. With the advent of gigabit internet, it would appear that CAT5 cable should be replaced immediately if you use it. However, that may not be the case as I will discuss next.
Category 5e (CAT5e)
CAT5e (enhanced) is similar to a CAT5 cable. However, CAT5e network cables can handle data rates of up to 1 Gbps (Gigabit) for 100 meters. There is no difference between the construction of CAT5 and CAT5e cables. The difference is that some CAT5e cables were tested against stricter standards. They are CAT5 cables that were good enough to handle higher data rates. CAT5e cables are still used in many installations to this day.
Category 6 (CAT6)
CAT6 cables guarantee 1Gbps for up to 100 meters of cable or 10Gbps (10Gigabit) at about 55 meters (180 ft). Notice that the CAT6 cable has the same performance as the CAT5e at 100 meters. However, It is capable of handling 10-gigabit speeds but for only 55 meters. CAT6 cable can be shielded or unshielded.
CAT6 cable costs roughly about $160 for 1000 feet on Amazon. A professional cable company would most likely get it at a lower price. I’m just using this price as a comparison with CAT7 and CAT8 cables.
Category 6a (CAT6a)
CAT6a cable guarantees a maximum data rate of 10Gbps at 100 meters. This is accomplished by adding shielding to cut down on signal interference. CAT6a cable only comes as shielded. It also requires a grounding solution upon installation, as do all shielded cables.
CAT6a cable costs a little over $200 for 1000 feet on Amazon.
Category 7 (CAT7)
CAT7 cables guarantee 100Gbps for 15 meters (49 ft). CAT7 cable comes only as shielded and it uses a modified GigaGate45 connector, which is backward compatible with the well known RJ45 connector that is typically used for networking cables.
CAT7 cable is about $450 for 1000 feet on Amazon.
Category 7a (CAT7a)
CAT7a network cables guarantee up to 40Gbps for 50 meters (164 ft) and 100Gbps for 15 meters. CAT7 cable is not as flexible as the other cables because of its extensive shielding, and It is not widely used.
CAT7a cable costs about $485 for 1000 feet on Amazon.
Category 8 (CAT8)
CAT8 cables support frequencies of up to 2000 MHz and a data rate of up to 40Gbps at 30 meters. CAT8 cables are heavily shielded. The cable is shielded just inside the sheath and the individual wire pairs are shielded. These cables are much stiffer than others.
CAT8 cables are about $514 for 1000 feet on Amazon.
You might think that if you are going to install network cable in your home or office that you might want to invest in CAT6a, CAT7, or CAT8 cable types. Remember that CAT6a thru CAT8 comes only as shielded cables. This means that they are not as flexible as the unshielded cables that we are used to. Furthermore, remember that shielded cables require proper grounding to work optimally.
CAT5e network cable is still viable today, though it doesn’t provide future-proofing for speeds greater than 1Gbps. CAT6a or CAT7 cables would provide future-proofing for new network cabling installation.
Another important point to consider about choosing network cabling is the cost. The total cost includes the cost of the cable and the cost of installation. I included prices of the cable types above from Amazon. The cable installation company will most likely get a better price for their cable since they purchase in bulk.
CAT6a and above require grounding because the cables are shielded and use thicker wire, and are therefore more difficult to install, which increases the installation cost correspondingly.
What type of cable is best for you?
I’ve heard a few people say that they installed CAT7 or CAT8 cables in their home to be extremely future proof. We are currently at gigabit internet speeds and it is doubtful that there will be 10Gbps, 100Gbps, or more for the home relatively soon. So you should not feel that you need the latest and greatest cable.
Before I upgraded my home network infrastructure, I noticed that some of my network cables were connecting at 1Gbps even though some were CAT5 cables. My home was wired with CAT5e when it was built almost 20 years ago and I still was using CAT5 cables here and there on my network years later. After consulting with the cable installation company, I decided that it was not necessary to upgrade my cables CAT5e cables to CAT6.
However, if you want to install network cable for the first time in your home or office, then I suggest you use at least CAT6 cables (unshielded). It is a much simpler installation than using the higher category cables, e.g., more flexible and no grounding concerns.
Some may have the impression that using cables with a higher data rate means that you will experience higher speeds when using the internet. That is not necessarily the case. The cable data rate does not determine the speed of your network. Instead, it only specifies the maximum speed that the cable can handle at the specified distance. Upgrading your cable will, however, cause you to realize higher network speeds if the old cable was the bottleneck.
There are several types of cables that you can use in your home or office. If your home or office currently uses CAT5e then you should be fine. That will handle 1Gbps. If you are installing cable for a new home or adding network cabling to an existing home or office, then at least CAT6 cable is recommended. You might consider CAT6a cables if your budget will allow it and the length of cable does not exceed 100 meters (328 feet). That will future-proof you for 10Gigabit internet.
There is no need to consider CAT8 cable. Those cables are suitable for a high-speed switch to switch communications in data centers and perhaps server rooms, e.g., an enterprise. It would be a waste of money to install CAT8 cables in the typical home or office.
On another note. I used Bridge Cable to install network cabling in my home. You can visit them online at https://www.bridgecable.com/. Tell Victoria that Reggie sent you. I have no affiliation with Bridge Cable. I simply felt that they did a great job installing my network cable, among other tasks, and thought I would recommend them.
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