Network cables : Demystifying Cat5, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, and Cat8 Data Cables

A Guide to Network Performance

Ethernet cables, the unsung heroes of our digital world, silently ferry data between devices. But with a variety of Cat (Category) options available, choosing the right one can be confusing. This article dives into the key differences between Cat5, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, and Cat8 cables, empowering you to make informed decisions for your network needs.

The Core Difference: Speed and Bandwidth

At the heart of the Cat hierarchy lies bandwidth, measured in Megahertz (MHz) and representing the amount of data a cable can carry per second. Higher bandwidth translates to faster data transfer speeds. Each Cat iteration builds upon its predecessor, offering increased bandwidth and, consequently, faster speeds. Here's a breakdown:

  • Cat5: The grandfather of the bunch, Cat5 supports up to 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) with a bandwidth of 100 MHz. While largely obsolete, it might still be found in older installations.
  • Cat5e: An enhanced version of Cat5, Cat5e offers improved crosstalk mitigation (interference between cable pairs) and supports speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) with a bandwidth of 100 MHz. This is the most common cable type for home and small office networks.
  • Cat6: Designed for Gigabit Ethernet connections, Cat6 boasts a bandwidth of 250 MHz and supports speeds of up to 1 Gbps. It offers better performance over longer distances compared to Cat5e.
  • Cat6a: An augmentation of Cat6, Cat6a maintains the 1 Gbps speed but increases the bandwidth to 500 MHz. This enables it to handle 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 Gbps) connections over shorter distances.
  • Cat7: The outlier of the group, Cat7 employs a different standard with stricter specifications for shielding and reduces crosstalk. It boasts a bandwidth of 600 MHz and is theoretically capable of handling 10 Gbps speeds, but over very short distances (around 15 meters). However, Cat7 is not a commonly adopted standard due to its complex installation requirements and higher cost.
  • Cat8: The newest kid on the block, Cat8 boasts a whopping bandwidth of 2000 MHz, enabling it to support speeds of up to 40 Gbps over short distances (around 30 meters) and 10 Gbps over extended lengths (up to 100 meters). It's designed for future-proofing high-performance networks.

Beyond Speed: Shielding and Construction

While speed is a primary concern, cable construction and shielding also play a role. Cat5 and Cat5e are typically Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) cables, which are cost-effective but more susceptible to interference. Cat6, Cat6a, and Cat8 are often available in both UTP and Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) variations. STP cables include a foil or braided shield to minimize external electromagnetic interference (EMI), which is crucial in environments with a lot of electrical noise. Cat7 utilizes a specific shielded design with individual shielding for each pair of wires and an overall outer shield, making it bulkier and less flexible than other Cat options.

Choosing the Right Cat for Your Needs

The ideal Cat cable depends on your network's speed requirements, budget, and physical environment. Here's a quick guide:

  • For basic home or small office networks: Cat5e is sufficient for most internet connections and basic file sharing.
  • For Gigabit Ethernet connections: Cat6 is a solid choice, offering good performance at a reasonable price.
  • For future-proofing or 10 Gbps connections over short distances: Cat6a or Cat8 are better options.


  • Cat7, while technically capable of high speeds, is not widely used due to its installation complexities.
  • Always check cable length limitations for desired speeds.
  • Consider potential EMI in your environment when choosing between UTP and STP cables.

By understanding the differences between Cat cables, you can make an informed decision that optimises your network's performance and prepares you for future needs.

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