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Is Cat7 backward compatible?

With ever changing technology and cabling requirements many businesses are looking to future proof there cabling. However they are not always ready to go to a full on high specification system. Rather they want to be ready for when the technology requires it. Therefore a common situation is installing the main data cabling in a high grade cabling specification but maintaining a lower lesser grade of hardware and connection cabling. Thus is a higher grade of cable is installed such as Cat7 can you be confident to answer the question is Cat7 backward compatible

What is a Cat7 Cable?

A Category 7 cable is generally called a Cat7 or Cat7a cable. It was first designed to be used for the cabling communications of 10 Gigabit Ethernet. However theoretically it can support 40Gb and 100Gb at shorter distances.

A Cat 7 cable offers bandwidth up to 600MHz. Thus in simple terms is 6 times the capacity of Cat5e and 2 and a half times that of Cat6. Simply put, a Cat 7 cable is what we recommend you use when wiring your smart home.

The first consideration with Cat7 is that over the standard structured cabling length of 90m it only has the capacity of 10 gigabit ethernet. Thus the same as Cat6a

Cat 7 supports the theoretical capabilities of 40 Gbps and also 100Gbps. Thus it is desirable but unfortunately it can only achieve this at reduced distances. Independent testing has shown the capability of 40 Gigabit in distances up to 50m and 100 Gigabit up to 15m. However this is dependent on bespoke hardware setup and isn’t a ratified standard. Therefore this is why Cat7 is more commonly seen in data centres or home installations where the installation runs are shorter

However the frequencies that allow the Cat 7 cabling to reach such impressive speeds are currently not available on any home network. Thus it might be able to transmit at such increased speeds but the hardware in the market doesn’t yet need this capacity. Thus the consideration is then installing Cat7 for future usage when hardware improves and is a higher standard. This is more desirable than the disruption of re-cabling the building again

If I install Cat7 cabling is Cat7 backward compatible?

The Cat 7 cable is compatible with the Cat 6, Cat 5, and Cat 5 cable categories. It offers 90/100m 4-connector channels using shielded cabling and is designed to transmit signals at frequencies up to 600MHz.

Cat 7 cables require full shielding of twisted wires called screen shielded twisted pair (SSTP) or screened folded twisted pair (SFTP) wiring, which is further eliminates alien crosstalk while significantly improving noise resistance. This way it allows the user to get maximum speed even with long cables.

The Cat7 cable differs from previous Ethernet cable standards in that the Cat5 and CAT6 are available in several ways, however, the biggest advantage of the Cat7 cable is its ability to protect twisted pairs, which can be noisy. This is achieved with increase and greater shielding. Thus this significantly improves signal loss and corruption.

Cat7 cabling is usually terminated onto GG45 connectors which in addition to the standard 8 termination connectors they have 4 additional points of contact. In a Cat5e, Cat6 or Cat6a connector they are just the standard 8 points of contact. However the connector is still suitable for a RJ45 connector. Therefore a Cat5e, Cat6 or Cat6a patch lead can be plugged into a Cat7 connector. The reverse is true for using Cat7 patch leads into a lower grade of permanent data cabling

Situations where Cat7 is installed and used backward compatible

  • Cat7 cabling is installed into the fabric of the building but Cat6a termination modules are used. This is sometimes to reduce intital cost and other times due to manufacturer limitations on a Cat7 or Cat7a connector
  • A Full Cat7 structured cabling installation is undertaken including GG45 modules. However Cat6a patch leads are used. The limitation on longer runs is 10 Gigabit and therefore Cat6a patch leads are sufficient and a lot more cost effective. However the cabling is in place for future technologies
  • A full cat7 cabling installation is put into a new building but the client brings over their existing hardware and patch leads and connects. This could be Cat5e, Cat6 or Cat6a. Therefore the system runs at their old speeds but is in place for the future. This isnt very common but has been the case on past projects

Better shielding

The Cat7 cables incorporate a better separation than the previous standards. In addition with its additional shielding it has noise protection much stronger than other components, greatly reducing signal loss. Thus each pair of wires are secured in shielded sheaths and an additional layer of shielding protection also over the entire cable. As a result, the cable undergoes a strict procedure to prevent signal loss at long distances. Furthermore for the full shielding and performance benefits  the special connectors of GG45 should be used. In additional care should be taken to maintain the bend radius and installation guidelines to enjoy the full functionality of this cable.

Conclusion – Is Cat7 backwards compatible

If you have smart home technology or are in a situation that requires a shorter links, Cat7 cables are the perfect match. Under 100 Gigabit Ethernet, cables will reach 15 meters and up to 50 meters under 40 Gigabit Ethernet.  However as previously stated this is a non ratified standard.

Due to their higher grade requirements most data centres are moving beyond Cat7 and straight to Cat8.

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