Types (Categories) of Ethernet Cable
Ethernet cables are the lifeline of any Internet connection and one of the most common types of cables used today. Since its invention in 1974, Ethernet has come a long way as technology has advanced and upgrades have been developed. As these advancements are implemented, older versions of Ethernet are phased out for newer models. But a lot of older Ethernet cables are still in use and work well enough, so it is important to know the difference between the different varieties on the market today.
While some Ethernet cables are better than others, simply switching out cables will not always improve Internet connections. Your internet service provider (ISP) determines your maximum Internet speed and you get whatever you pay for. Upgrading from Cat5e to Cat6 can usually show an improvement, but unless you already have a very high Internet bill do not expect Cat8 to work any miracles.
Each type of Ethernet cable is given a different category. These categories are essentially version numbers, so higher numbers mean the cable is newer and will run better. Improvements can also be made to Ethernet without upgrading to an entirely new category, such as Cat6 vs. Cat6a as opposed to Cat7. The requirements for an Ethernet upgrade to qualify as a new category are set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).
Cat5e (“e” for “enhanced”) is an upgrade from the original (outdated) Cat5 cable. This is the current standard for Ethernet and has completely replaced all older forms of Ethernet. If you have a cable that came with a new computer, modem, or other electronic, it is likely Cat5e. These cables support up to 1 Gbps (gigabyte per second) and are generally sufficient for at-home use with basic Internet functions, such as email and shopping online.
Cat6 is the next step up that will eventually replace Cat5e as the new standard. These cables support speeds up to 10 Gbps, ten times faster than Cat5e. This makes Cat6 ideal for activities that use more data, such as streaming TV shows or online gaming. The increased speed also makes Cat6 the best choice for small-scale networks, such as a school or office with a modest number of computers.
Cat6a (“a” for “augmented”) is an upgrade over standard Cat6. This newer version has better shielding to block electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI). If an Ethernet cable needs to be next to cables or machinery that lets off a lot of power, Cat6a can cut down on signal interference. Even if nothing in your building might cause issues, Cat6a is also a good choice if you are near something like a radio tower or electrical substation that could cause signal issues.
Cat7 is an extremely high-speed cable with data speeds of 100 Gbps. These Ethernet cables are shielded by default since they are most commonly used near equipment with high-energy consumption, such as data servers, that generate EMI. For at-home use, Cat7 is overkill. On a professional level, Cat7 can be used for network rooms, telco closets, and similar areas in large buildings with expansive networks.
Cat8 is the latest and greatest iteration of Ethernet. It supports speeds of 30 Gbps but has more than double the bandwidth than Cat7. The downside is that Cat8 can only sustain bandwidth that high for up to 30 meters, for now at least. Presently, Cat8 is primarily being used in data centers but will likely see more use elsewhere as the technology continues to improve in the coming years.
Buy Your Ethernet Cables Today
ShowMeCables offers every category of Ethernet available today. That includes pre-made patch cords as well as rolls of bulk cable for installation work. Both options include other features such as color-coding and cables for outdoor use in addition to the different categories.