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Selection Guide for the Right Ethernet / LAN Cable

Whether getting a LAN cable for home use or selecting a LAN cable while planning for industrial needs or business network infrastructure, you may have questions about which cable to use. You may notice several types to choose from, namely Cat 5, Cat 5e, Cat 6, Cat 6A, Cat 7, Cat 7A, and up to the latest Cat 8. The Cat ratings stand for the category, and the different numbers represent different speeds and specifications for each cable type. The higher the number, the newer the technology and the higher the data rate supported.

The basic differences to look for across the categories would be :

  • Maximum data rate (measured in megabits per second, Mbps or gigabits per second; Gbps)
  • Bandwidth (measured in megahertz; MHz)
  • Shielding (to protect against interference)

To generalize, Cat 5 is mostly obsolete now as it only goes up to 100Mbps. 

Cat 5e is suitable for installation in residences and small offices with network speeds below 1Gbps.

It supports bandwidths from 100 MHz up to 350 MHz. An easy way to think of bandwidths would be similar to traffic flow; the wider the road or higher the bandwidth, the more cars or data can pass through at a go. In Cat 5e, the pairs are twisted together tighter than in Cat 5 to reduce crosstalk (the interference caused by electromagnetic signals affecting another electronic signal).

Cat 6 is recommended for larger installations like University campuses and big office buildings.

Cat 6 can support 1Gbps up to 100 meters and 10Gbps up to 55 meters. It supports bandwidths up to 500 MHz. The pairs are twisted even tighter than Cat 5e to help with crosstalk. Keystone Cable’s Cat 6 also has a spline between the pairs to minimize crosstalk.

Cat 6 can be shielded to improve performance (earlier network cables were all unshielded). For example, an unshielded twisted pair cable would be satisfactory for a short run between a computer and router, but a foil-shielded cable is better for longer runs or where the cable would pass through areas of high electrical noise, such as in an industrial factory.

At Keystone, our Cat 6 stock include U/UTP and F/UTP.

Cat 6A is suitable for industrial, commercial, and data centre applications.

Cat 6A handles 10Gbps up to 100 meters and supports up to 500 MHz bandwidth. The pairs are twisted tighter than Cat 6 to help with crosstalk and allow higher bandwidth. It is common to find each pair individually foil-shielded and with an overall braided shield.

At Keystone, our Cat 6A stock include F/FTP and F/UTP.

Cat 7 and Cat 7A are commonly found in bandwidth-intensive applications like data centres or other places where extra interference protection is needed.

Cat 7 and Cat 7A handle 10Gbps up to 100 meters and support bandwidth up to 600 MHz. What helps this cable category perform better than the previous ones are more strict and precise manufacturing processes to increase the tightness of the twists, the individual shield and the overall shield to reduce crosstalk and interference dramatically. Cat 7 and Cat 7A have shown in test results to deliver 40 Gbps over distances up to 50 meters and 100 Gbps up to 15 meters.

The one drawback of using Cat 7 or 7A may be that it is not recognized by EIA/TIA (wiring standards for commercial and telecommunications wiring) and uses its proprietary non-RJ45 connector, which may be more challenging to purchase.

At Keystone, our Cat 7 stock includes S/FTP.

Cat 8 is new and explored for use between servers and switches in large data centres with an insanely high bandwidth requirement.

It is uncommon to use Cat 8, although it does jump several iterations in performance. It can handle 25Gbps/ 40Gbps up to 30 meters and supports bandwidth up to 2000 MHz.

The development of Cat 8 is subdivided into Cat 8.1 and Cat 8.2 under IEC standards. Cat 8.1 is backwards compatible with Cat 6A, Cat 6 and Cat 5e, while Cat 8.2 is backwards compatible with Cat 7 and Cat 7A. This is due to the connector relationship where Cat. 8.1 uses a standard RJ45 while Cat 8.2 uses a non-RJ45 connector.

As a rule of thumb, your network is only as fast as the slowest part of your entire channel. For example, if your internet connection is 300 Mbps but your router’s ports can transfer only 100 Mbps, then your whole network would be limited to 100 Mbps instead of 300 Mbps. Hence when you consider the Cat type, you may scrutinize the rest of your system to ensure compatibility. However, we recommend future-proofing, especially if you intend the cable installation to be concealed within walls. In such cases, we recommend getting a LAN cable one step higher than your current requirements to future-proof your installation.

For more enquiries, please check in with our sales team.

If you are interested in learning more about the solutions Keystone Cable can provide you, please contact us.

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