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How Often Do New Cable Technologies Come Out?

In 2018, Speedtest Intelligence reported that fixed broadband speeds increased from 2017 to 2018 by 26%. The year before, the same agency measured fixed broadband speeds increasing from 2016 to 2017 by 31%. The average speed of internet downloads grew from 11.4 MBps in 2014 to almost 19 MBps in 2017, a speed increase over time made possible by innovations in data cabling moving at Ethernet speeds. Let’s explore the history of cable technologies and how often new types of cables have been developed to support the demand for increasingly rapid access to data required by users across the world.

The Introduction of Copper-based Twisted Pairs

Copper-based wiring used in communications can be traced back to its use by Samual Morse in the 1840s as the foundation of the telegraph system in America. As communications technology advanced, these copper cables became the foundation of the networking cabling systems that grew out of the landline telephone systems.

The Birth of Category Cabling

In the 1970s, the first Ethernet cable was envisioned by the Xerox Corporation, and subsequently the first standardized Ethernet cabling system was born. This system was formalized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in 1983. While Token Ring cabling was the first type of cabling to come out of this standard, it wasn’t until 1985 when the first Category 1 (CAT 1) unshielded twisted pair copper cabling was introduced. The unshielded approach allowed for the fastest signal distribution at the time in a format that was flexible and less expensive than other forms of cabling. It wasn’t long until CAT 2 cabling was introduced as an upgraded version of CAT 1 cabling that could interact with Token Ring networks and older terminal systems.

Cabling Standards Defined By TIA/EIA 568

In 1991, with the introduction of CAT 3 cables, the Telecommunications Industry Association partnered with the Electronics Industry Association to define the Commercial Building Telecommunication Cabling Standard. The standards established by TIA/EIA 568, as the system came to be known, required specific performance requirements of cabling in order to be compliant and accepted by the industry. Standards include the number of outlets required when running wire, minimum distance between the outlet and the local incoming connections as well as backbone wiring requirements throughout a facility.

Ethernet Speeds and Beyond

While CAT 3 allows for data rates up to 10 Mbps, and provided the first seamless convergence of voice, data, and video over a single cable, the past two decades have seen CAT cabling quickly catch up to our data transfer speed needs. Skipping over CAT 4 cabling, which was intended as an upgrade of CAT 2 cabling, CAT 3’s successor was released in 1995. Designated CAT 5 cables, this iteration of the TIA/EIA standard was the first Ethernet cable able to reach 10/100Mbps at up to 100 MHz and came to be known as “fast Ethernet.”

Six years later, in 2001, the industry again iterated on CAT cabling, and CAT 5e cables hit the market, with the intent of specifically addressing signal transmission interference and crosstalk/ These features quickly set CAT 5e cables apart from other cabling, and it became the industry go-to for upgrading old networks and cabling new installations for a short period of time.

Only a year later, the industry rolled out the CAT 6 cable standard, provided a better signal-to-noise ratio, but it wasn’t until the introduction of CAT 6a cables in 2008 that the game changed. CAT 6a cabling allowed for speeds up to 10 Gbp, but requires specialized connectors for proper installation. To date, CAT 5e and CAT 6a cables are the most prevalent cables in use, allowing the fastest speeds over the longest distances and the best bandwidth performances relative to cost and ease of installation.

Other categories have been developed since, with CAT 7 and CAT 7e cables making their way into circulation between 2010 and 2013. CAT 7 and 7e’s claim to fame are improvements over previous cabling bandwidth ratings up to 600 Mhz to 1000 Mhz, but both require special grounding and are somewhat inflexible due to the additional shielding in each.

As of 2018, CAT 8 cabling standard had been ratified, and the cabling is on the market, but has a very specific use case, supporting bandwidths up to 2 Ghz at 30 meters and speeds of up to 25 Gbps. Until it becomes more cost effective and there becomes a widespread need for it, CAT 8 will remain in limited use.

Go With a Supplier That Understands Your Networking Needs

Whether you’re retrofitting an existing network, or building a network from the ground up as part of a new facility, it’s important to know what your cabling needs are, and how best to construct your network. SANDirect understands the history of networking cables and has an extensive catalog of cabling solutions. We also have data specialists who can walk you through the best combinations of switches, cabling, and data storage for your needs.

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