by Jeff Fisher
Having trouble keeping up with Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, etc? Here's a short guide that will tell you just what you wanted to know.
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Category Rating Table
The different "Cat" ratings on cable indicate the network speeds they can support.
The table below shows the cable ratings and the maximum speed network for each type. All cables can support networks slower than the maximum.
|Rating||Common Name||Max Run Length||Speed||Frequency||Spec||Pairs Used|
|Cat5||Fast Ethernet||100m (328ft)||100Mbit||100Mhz||100Base-T||2|
|Cat5E||Gigabit Ethernet||100m (328ft)||1Gbit||250Mhz||1GBase-T||4|
|Cat6||10 Gigabit Ethernet||50m (164ft)||10Gbit||500MHz||10GBase-T||4|
|Cat6A||10 Gigabit Ethernet||100m (328ft)||10Gbit||500MHz||10GBase-T||4|
|Cat7||600MHz||Standards not yet complete|
|Cat7A||1000MHz||Standards not yet complete|
|40 Gigabit Ethernet||10GBit||2000MHz||Still in planning stage|
- Fast Ethernet is currently old technology falling into disuse.
- Gigabit Ethernet is currently the most popular speed in use.
- 10 Gigabit is the new standard that we should all be planning for.
- 40 Gigabit is still in the planning/specification stages.
Should You use shielded cables?
Most category rated cable is Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP). Although Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) better protects from outside interference, it is often worse at transmitting data at high speeds over long distances. We don't recommend STP for use in the home.
What's really important here?
The category rating of your complete install will be the lowest of the cable, connectors, wiring closet parts, and the quality and care of the installation itself. If you use cat5 cable and cat6 connectors, you have a cat5 rating. If you use all cat6a parts, but have a poor installation, you might not even meet cat5 ratings. So, in one sense, Everything is important.
But the cable in your walls is really the most important, because it's the hardest to replace later! Use the highest grade reasonable and be careful to not crush or kink the cable. Connectors and wiring closet parts are relatively easily to upgrade later.
What the heck is Cat6e?
Some manufacturers "jumped the shark" and began calling their products Cat6E rated before the standard was finalized. (Cat5 went to Cat5e so they figured Cat6 would too.) Surprise! When the standard was finalized, it was called Cat6A. So consider Cat6e to be better than Cat6, and probably, but not necessarily, Cat6A compliant.
Note: The above information is from the perspective of residential wiring for phone and networking use. The points have been somewhat oversimplified but this is the sort of "actionable information" that has served our customers well in the past.
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