CAT 5 / CAT6 / CAT7 / CAT8 CABLING – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
When it comes to data cabling it’s difficult to argue against copper wire as the best material to go for. And this is down to the sheer variance on offer which allows consumers to choose from a wide range of grades, categories and specs that all deliver unique results for even the most complicated projects. Before you dive straight into the world of data cabling, however, it’s probably best to get to grips with the differences between cat 5/6/7/8 cables.
One of the older categories of copper wire data cables, cat 5 cabling was adopted as the standard cabling choice in 1995 and allowed 10/100 Mbps Ethernet capabilities at a distance of up to 100 metres. Having now been surpassed by several other categories of cabling (including cat 5e with less crosstalk and noise), cat 5 still retains a slice of the cabling market and has proved popular with simple network setups in commercial settings and the home. Going forwards, however, consumers are looking for something a little more long term that can deliver enhanced speed and reliability.
Is Cat 6 Cabling compatible with Cat 5?
Cat 6 cabling was launched in 2002 and, thanks to its copper wires being more tightly wound than cat 5 cables, it soon became the dominant data cable in the market and maintains this position today. Although extra care is required when installing cat 6 cabling compared to cat 5, the benefits easily outweigh the additional installation time and minor budget increase. Finding popularity in audio and visual niches, cat 6 cabling can also boast Gigabit Ethernet at a distance of 100m with reduced crosstalk. So, if you want to ‘future proof’ your network, cat 6 cabling remains an attractive option. And, best of all, its backwards compatible with cat 5 cabling, so there’s no need to completely dismantle your existing networks.
Notably different to its predecessors thanks to its much thicker layer of shielding, cat 7 cables reduce the deterioration of data transmissions and can transmit 40Gb at 50 metres and even 100Gb at 15 metres. These speeds make cat 7 cables perfect for home installs that incorporate numerous smart devices. However, due to the additional shielding, cat 7 cables are much thicker than cat 5 and 6 cables, so they have reduced flexibility and are less suitable for commercial installations. Another drawback with cat 7 cabling is that, unlike cat 5 and 6 cabling, it lacks backwards compatibility and its usage requires an entire overhaul of existing networks.
Cat 8 Cabling
Although not officially recognised (or fully tested) yet, cat 8 cabling is being developed rapidly and has already achieved transfer speeds that hit 40Gbps and a bandwidth capability of 2000MHz. However, due to its channel length, cat 8 cables have a 30m limit and are unable to maintain 40Gbps over longer distances. This makes it difficult to incorporate cat 8 cables into major bridges or long stretches within large networks. Instead, cat 8 cabling is more recommended for connecting short distances in networks.