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CAT6a Cable vs CAT7 Cable

Commonly asked questions that we regularly discuss at NM cabling with our clients and designers. This article will probe into CAT6a Cable vs CAT7 Cable and what the differences are and when you should and shouldn’t use either of them.

Should I use Cat6A or Cat7?

As with all cabling designs, choosing between CAT6a and CAT7 cabling depends on your specific networking, hardware and transmission requirements.

CAT6a or Category 6 Augmented cabling is an enhanced version of CAT6. It was the first cabling standard that achieved performance limits for supporting 10 Gigabit Ethernet or 10GBASE-T.

Similarly, the CAT7 cable is a yet again higher category cable designed for even higher speeds and performance.

Whether you use Cat6a or Cat7 will depend on quite a few factors such as

  • The hardware you have or propose to install and its transmission requirements.
  • Your Financial Budget
  • The distances and layout of the building
  • Your existing containment and its capability to contain the cabling.

Installing the highest-grade cabling is great for future-proofing performance issues. However, we find a lot that it's not always possible to install a higher-grade cable in all buildings.

What is the advantage of CAT6A cable?

CAT6a cables offer several advantages for high-performance networks. However, performance-wise, the advantage of providing higher bandwidth and support for 10-Gigabit and 10GBASE-T is only an advantage over Cat5e and standard Cat6 cabling. Similarly, the increased noise reduction and increased crosstalk performance are only superior to Cat5e and Cat6

The advantages of Cat6a to Cat7 when both are suitable for your transmission requirements are:

Cat6a is a more economical cable so requires less budget to install

  1. The Cat6a cable is smaller than the Cat7 cable so its
  2. Takes up less room in containment.
  3. Has a smaller bend radius.
  4. Eliminates the need for increased containment.
  5. Doesn’t require specific switch ports for its patch leads
  6. Cat7 has additional cores in its terminations so requires different switching
  7. Is easier and quicker to install
  8. Is more readily available.

 Is it worth upgrading to Cat7?

The majority of Cat7 installations are new installations rather than upgrades. Unless the upgrade is in a data centre environment

Usually, a specific system or hardware will require Cat7 cabling. The problem with Cat7 is that it is mainly ratified for 10-Gigabit which is the same as Cat6a. It was designed with 10 Gigabit in mind.

Individual bespoke tests have shown Cat7 Ethernet cables able to transmit up to 40 Gbps over 50 meters, and 100 Gbps over 15 meters. However, this isn’t a standardised standard.

The Cat7 connector is also a connector called a GG45 which is generally hard to find and purchase. They have different construction characteristics and require different switching.

This lack of conformity with previous cabling standards has made Cat7 cables an unpopular category choice. Indeed, this was what ultimately led to the development of Cat6A cables

Cat8 was designed to make the jump to 40 gigabits. It can achieve 40-gigabit over 30m and is a standardised speed

The increased bandwidth of 600Mhz with Cat7 cabling over 500Mhz from cat6a may be desirable and the increased shielding be good in noisy areas where interference might be a bigger problem. However, it’s not much of a benefit..!

It is important to note that CAT7 cables are thicker and more expensive. In addition, less common than CAT6a. Upgrading to CAT7 may be warranted for specialized applications or environments that demand the highest performance.

 Cat6a or Cat7 for home network

We recommend for the majority if not all home networks, CAT6a is generally more than sufficient. In a residential setting, 10-Gigabit transmission speeds are more than enough

It provides ample bandwidth for typical internet speeds, Wi-Fi and multimedia streaming.

CAT7 cables are too large, inflexible and expensive for residential applications. Therefore, they do not provide significant benefits in terms of performance or cost effectiveness.

Furthermore, Cat7 cabling doesn’t fit inside a standard deep back box. Most residential wall voids are 100mm in depth of which only part can be the back box. With the additional size and bend radius of Cat7 cables, it's almost impossible to get the cables inside a box and terminated. Especially with a flat metal decorative faceplate

If you are installing patch leads directly from a router, then a Cat7 patch lead would be easier to install and cost differences would be small. Therefore, you may choose to install Cat7 leads in that option.

 Will Cat7 work with my router?

Compatibility between CAT7 and your router depends on the specific router model and its supported Ethernet standards. Generally, Cat7 GG45 Modules and patch leads will work with Cat6a and below. As Cat6a is standard for all switches and routers, Cat7 should also be ok.

However, the cables will make no greater difference than Cat6a

 Can you use CAT6A connectors on Cat7 cable?

The performance of any link is only as good as its weakest part. Therefore, using Cat6a connectors on cat7 cable will only rate the overall link as a Cat6a performance link.

Generally, Cat6a jacks will fit on a Cat7 cable but as Cat7 cables are slightly larger the connections won’t be as precise as the specific Cat7 connectors for that cable.

A practice sometimes seen in new developments is installing Cat7 cable with Cat6a jacks and Cat6a patch leads. The Cat7 jacks and leads are not readily available, and the cost is a lot higher. Therefore, some people install the Cat7 cable with more cost-effective Cat6a components. They then have the cat7 cable in place to upgrade the jacks and patch leads later for a higher-performance system. By doing this they avoid having to run in replacement cable

 CAT6a Cable vs. CAT7 Cable Conclusion

In conclusion, the choice between CAT6a and CAT7 cables depends on your specific networking needs.

CAT6a offers excellent performance and 10GBASE-T support and will pretty much achieve everything Cat7 cables can in the majority of cases

Therefore, cat6a is the most specified choice of cabling and is suitable for most residential and commercial applications.

CAT7, with its higher category and improved shielding, may be considered for specialised applications demanding even higher speeds and reduced interference.

Therefore, by understanding the differences between the 2 cables and considering your network requirements, you can make an informed decision. This then leads to choosing which cable is best for your specific needs.

Read more about Cat5e Cable FAQ – 19 Frequently Asked Questions