Wired connections are generally a lot faster and more reliable than Wifi connections but it’s important to get the right data cables for your business. As the need for more bandwidth increases, the cables that form the arterial systems of your networks need to be able to keep up the demands of your business for many years to come.
With the many different standards available for data cabling, it can be difficult to tell them apart and make the right choice for your network installation. While all Ethernet cables serve the same purpose (i.e. connect devices to networks like the internet), not all Ethernet cables are created equal.
Understanding which cable standard will best suit your business needs isn’t easy. To get you started, here is a brief guide to the main cabling standards.
CAT5 Ethernet was introduced in 1995 as a successor to CAT3 cabling (now only used for telephone-grade connections as it can only support up to 10 Mbps speed and 16 MHz of bandwidth).
By using a higher grade of copper and rearranging the cable twists inside the shielding, CAT5 became the first cable to offer 10/100 Mbps speed at bandwidths of up to 100 MHz. It’s also referred to as “Fast Ethernet”.
Although both CAT3 and CAT5 are considered obsolete, it’s not unheard of to still find the latter in use (e.g. distributing video and telephone signals at distances of up to 100 metres).
Introduced in 2001, CAT5e is the improved version of the CAT5. Although they look physically similar, the CAT5e comes with the following improvements:
CAT5e is the most commonly preferred type of cable, thanks to its low production costs and greater speed/bandwidth support. However, whilst Cat5e cable can run at, or very close to, gigabit speeds, it is not certified for this use.
In 2002, CAT6 was introduced to the market with features that supersede its predecessors.
It can easily handle Gigabit Ethernet-like CAT5e, but it comes with more tightly wound cables which are often outfitted with foil or braided shielding. This shielding then adds more protection to the wires inside, further minimising crosstalk and noise interference.
Moreover, the CAT6 can support up to 250 MHz of bandwidth over distances of 55 metres.
A lot of consumers find themselves in a dilemma when choosing between CAT5e and CAT6. This confusion often stems from believing that CAT6 cabling can provide an “all gigabit” network.
However, your speed is not entirely dependent on your cables. While CAT6 cable or above is designed to run at speeds of a gigabit or more, it’s worth remembering that your network will only ever be as fast as the slowest device in it.
Introduced in 2008, CAT6a improved upon the features of CAT6, as it can support speeds of up to 10 Gbps at 500 MHz bandwidth. With CAT6a, you can transmit data over distances of 100 metres.
CAT6a cables are always shielded (as opposed to CAT6 that’s available in UTP and STP) and come with much thicker sheathing that can eliminate crosstalk completely. This, however, makes it denser and less flexible than CAT6. Given this, it’s better suited for industrial environments.
Unveiled in 2010, CAT7 is an Ethernet standard that allows for 10-gigabit speeds over 100 meters of copper cabling. It also comes with an extra bandwidth capacity of 600 MHz.
Unlike previous standards, CAT7 has added shielding on individual wire pairs inside the cable to reduce crosstalk and system noise. This additional shielding, however, makes it less flexible than CAT6a. You also have to ground each layer individually and use special GG45 connectors to maximise its features.
Considering how difficult it is to work with, CAT7 is best suited for large enterprise networks and data centres.
Its successor, the CAT7a, was introduced in 2013. It offers the same 10 Gbps speed but with a bandwidth capacity of 1.2 GHz.
To the casual observer, structured cabling differences may be invisible. But the technology has evolved through the years to include more categories that can support higher bandwidths (therefore increasing download and connection speeds).
At TV Net, we believe that it always pays to opt for the best possible cabling standard today, in order to future-proof your network for the business demands of tomorrow.
Contact us to find out the best cabling standard to use for your business network.
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Matt Nice, Director of ICT, Bristol Grammar School