With wireless fidelity getting precedence over other forms of internet connection, this doesn’t rule out the reliability of ethernet cables Offices still heavily rely on LAN connections for more stable connectivity to the virtual world. Even gamers prefer it for the same reason. You may identify them as copper wires with gold plated connectors that are inserted inside a laptop or PC's RJ45 connector. It’s similar to a telephone cable yet only bigger and thicker in dimensions.



Over the years, several categories of ethernet cables have been introduced to users. System integrators of IT professionals are thorough with these categories. The differences primarily are on the basis of speed, distance and frequency variables. The four most important categories currently are viz. CAT5, CAT6, CAT7 and CAT8. Let’s have a deeper retrospect into the four bigwigs of Ethernet.


Category 5 or CAT5 is a significant upgrade from its predecessor the CAT4 as it’s the first cable type that was able to clock 100 Mbps. The cable with a twisted pair of conductors was introduced to deliver extremely fast data transmission. But Cat5 produced a lot of crosstalk so a modified version of the 5 called CAT5E was brought forth to change the game.


Category 5 and 5e share similar physical features, yet the latter is governed by comparatively stricter IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) features. Both allow data transmission via a series of networks, have a maximum frequency range of up to 100 MHz and resist the inflow of radiation, but when it comes to communication, the 5e fares way better. CAT5e can provide speeds of up to 1 Gbps and is quite an inexpensive option. From homes to educational institutions to office spaces, CAT5e is a common option in almost every place for creating a local area network. Today, you’ll rarely find any space rendering the CAT5 technology as people have completely replaced it with the cost-efficient and technologically advanced CAT5e. The abbreviation ‘e’ denotes ‘enhanced’.


The sixth generation of LAN Ethernet takes the game up from its previous version to new heights. In comparison to CAT5e, CAT6 reduces a lot of crosstalk and has an increased bandwidth of 200-250 MHz. It beats its predecessor hands down on performance as CAT6 has a broader gauge and an unyielding twist to minimise crosstalk and interference. The CAT6 ethernet supports a speed of 10 Gbps up to 55 metres (180 feet). But CAT6 had its share of flaws which resulted in the creation of an advanced version which is the CAT6a.


The two key differences between CAT6 and CAT6a are cable length and bandwidth frequencies. The 6a can provide up to 10 Gbps of data speed in short distances and can extend up to 100m (328 feet). The bandwidth transmission is 500 MHz, twice CAT6’s frequency gauge. The CAT6a ethernet is built in a way that reduces interference and alien crosstalk (AXT) way better than other preceding versions can manage. It also provides enhanced return and insertion loss. Such factors imply that in comparison to all the previous ethernet cable types, CAT6a has an improvised SNR or Signal-to-Noise Ratio. It’s thicker than the CAT6 and is excellent for industrial use.


The CAT7 is much thicker and more heavily shielded than CAT6a. It requires GG45 (ARJ45) which is a next-gen connector for LAN cabling. The CAT7 cable provides a breakneck speed of a full 100 Gbps even at distances up to 15m. The bandwidth capacity is highly impressive which stands at 600 MHz. The Screen Shielded Twisted Pair (SSTP) or Screen Foiled Twisted Pair (SFTP) setup makes it thicker than any variants of categories 5 & 6. It’s highly efficient in reducing data transmission deterioration. Nevertheless, a flaw it experiences is that its flexibility is narrowed down due to dense shielding and twisted wires, which is why many commercial places have been a bit sceptical about the CAT7 ethernet cable. The total backward compatibility is another aspect of criticism faced by CAT7. Not much is different for CAT7a except for its frequency bandwidth which is 1000 MHz.


CAT8 has been approved by the IEEE and EIA (Electronic Industries Alliance) to be the true successor to CAT6a and is receiving positive feedback from users worldwide. It can provide up to 100 Gbps speeds even at 30 metres and comes with RJ45 connectors. The 2000 MHz bandwidth frequency puts it way ahead of any other ethernet cable in existence. However, the drawback it faces is that, after 30 metres, it provides regular speeds of 1 Gbps like the 6e. That’s why its foremost usage is meant for data centres. Similar to CAT7, its flexibility is reduced due to tighter wiring restrictions. But that shouldn’t be a critical factor because what it loses in range, it covers that up with its splendid performance-based feats. The heavy shielding factor guards it against crosstalk and loss of signal strength during transmission. It is the most powerful ethernet cable that currently exists.

A Brief Comparison of the aforementioned ethernet cables.

Categories CAT5 CAT5e CAT6 CAT6a CAT7 CAT8
Frequency (Max) 100 MHz 100 MHz 250* MHz 500 MHz 600 MHz 2000 MHz
1 GB Distance (Max) 100m 100m 100m 100m 100m
10 GB Distance (Max) 55m 100m 100m 100m
100 GB Distance (Max) 15m 30m

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Data source: All the above ethernet cable types have their pros and cons and are being used as per commercial or personal requirements. Which one should be your choice? Like buying any other heavy commodity of technology, factors such as feasibility, space, workspace ergonomics and others weigh in. The CAT5 and CAT6 ethernet cables, including their variants, have been the most popular, but over the years with increasing technological advancements, its successors such as CAT8 are slowly gaining dominance.