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Ethernet Cables 101

When discussing the Internet and the world wide web, people like to utilize metaphors and compare the entire system to a complex plumbing system, with ethernet connections akin the the pipes tying users to water sources. In the last few decades, these ethernet connections have gone through a number of iterations and upgrades, as the industry strives to keep copper cabling a viable networking option. These advancements are standardized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). There are currently four major variants of copper wiring in wide use on the market. Read on for more information on current variants of unshielded twisted pair wiring in use in the field.

Category 3

The earliest generation still in use, Cat3 cabling only supports a maximum frequency of 16 MHz, and primarily sees use in 10BASE-T networks such as alarm systems or similar networks applications.

Category 5

This generation of copper cabling has seen several iterations. The original iteration, Cat5 Ethernet, allowed signals of 10/100 Mbps Ethernet across 100 meters, but quickly became obsolete with the introduction of Cat5e, an enhanced cable that adheres more strictly to IEEE standards with reduced crosstalk and signal noise. Cat5e currently provides the strongest balance between price and performance, with frequencies reaching 100 MHz and speeds up to 1000 Mbps.

Category 6

The sixth generation of copper wiring, Cat6 bring copper cabling to the next level of performance by allowing data speeds up to 10 Gbps and 250 MHz. While thicker sheathing protects against signal crosstalk, Cat6 signal strength suffers at higher speeds and signals can only travel up to about 55 meters. The Cat6a variant of this generation of copper cabling supports double the signal strength, up to 500 MHz, and regains the ability to pass 10 Gbps up to 100 meters.

High End Copper Cabling

Both Cat7 and Cat8 cabling are live in the field, but currently come with limitations and at significantly restrictive price points. Category 7 cabling transmits signals at 40 Gbps up to 50 meters, and even 100 Gbps at 15 meters. It’s built with a significant degree of shielding, but requires grounding and special connectors to take advantage of higher performance levels. Similar to previous generations, a Cat7a cable has been developed that allows for transmissions at higher frequencies. Cat7 and its variant lost traction on the market when Cat8 cabling was released. Built to support frequencies up to 2000 MHz and data transfer rates reaching 40 Gbps up to 30 meters, Cat8 performance eclipsed Cat7 cabling. Alongside the affordability and performance of Cat6a cabling, Cat7 quickly fell out of use on the market.

Your Ethernet Gurus

Navigating what cabling your network needs can be a daunting task. Don’t go at it alone, call the experts at SANDirect for support and guidance. Submit your request for a quote and we’ll assess your networking setup and requirements. With the partnerships we have in place and our industry expertise, we can give you the tools and knowledge you need to build a network that meets your business needs.

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