Demystifying Ethernet Types— Difference between Cat5e, Cat 6, and Cat7

CAT5E vs. Cat6 Vs Cat7

Demystifying Ethernet Types— Difference between Cat5e, Cat 6, and Cat7

Ethernet represents the plumbing pipes of the Internet. Many network installers and system integrators are familiar with Cat5e and Cat6 cables with RJ45 connectors. But the term “Ethernet”, co-invented by Robert Metcalfe, encompasses an entire range of twisted pair and fiber cables that are constantly being upgraded and standardized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers known as IEEE. Each new iteration of Ethernet, or category, supports increasingly faster bandwidth speeds and improves upon noise cancelation.

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Cross sections of different category types of Ethernet reveal differing internal physical compositions. This guide will help you learn more about the subtle differences between each generation of twisted pair Ethernet cable.

Different Ethernet Categories

Ethernet cabling differences can be invisible to the casual observer. However, each new generation introduces copper pairs with tighter twists and more complex sheathing. Many earlier Ethernet generation cables have become obsolete.

Different Ethernet Categories Chart

 

Category 3

Cat3 cable is an earlier generation of Ethernet but can still be seen in older deployments. With the ability to support a maximum frequency of 16 MHz, this type of Ethernet can still be used for two-line telephone systems and 10BASE-T networks. CAT3 cable can also be used for alarm system installation or similar applications. CAT3 cable can have 2, 3, or 4 copper pairs (though uncommon). Category 5e cable however, has become the default Ethernet category of choice with the ability to support faster speeds and frequencies.

Category 5

Cat5 Ethernet, introduced 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, also known as Fast Ethernet. Even though some older deployments still use CAT5 cable, it is now considered obsolete and has since been replaced by Cat5e.

Category 5e

Though Cat5 and Cat5e cables are physically similar, Category 5e Ethernet adheres to more stringent IEEE standards. Cat5e is the most common type of cabling used for deployments due to its ability to support Gigabit speeds at a cost-effective price. Even though both Cat5 and Cat5e support a maximum frequency of up to 100MHz, Cat5e has completely replaced its predecessor. Gigabit Ethernet utilizes 4 data pairs in comparison to Fast Ethernet which utilizes 2 data pairs.

Category 6

Cat6 wiring can support up to 10 Gbps and frequencies of up to 250 MHz. While Cat5e cable features 1.5-2 twists per cm, Cat6 cables are more tightly wound and feature 2 or more twists per cm. (The amount of twists per cm varies upon each cable manufacturer). Cat6 cables also sport thicker sheaths in comparison to Cat5e. Though standard Ethernet supports distances of up to 100 meters, CAT6 cable only supports 37-55 meters (depending on crosstalk) when transmitting 10Gbps speeds. Its thicker sheath protects against Near End Crosstalk (NEXT) and Alien Crosstalk (AXT). Even though Cat6 and Cat6a cabling offers higher performance rates, many LANs still opt for CAT5e due to its cost-effectiveness and ability to support Gigabit speeds.

cat5e cat6 cat3

Category 6a

Cat6a can support bandwidth frequencies of up to 500 MHz, twice the amount of Cat6 cable, and can also support 10Gbps like its predecessor. However, unlike Cat6 cabling, Cat6a can support 10 Gigabit Ethernet at 100 meters. Cat6 cabling on the other hand, can transmit the same speeds at up to 37 meters. Cat6a also features more robust sheathing which eliminates alien crosstalk (AXT) and improves upon the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). The stronger sheathing makes Cat6a cabling considerable thicker than Cat6.

Category 7

Cat7 can also support 10 Gbps, but laboratory testing has successfully shown its ability to transmit up to 40 Gb at 50 meters and even 100 Gb at 15 meters. The cabling can support frequencies of up to 600 Mhz. Cat7 offers extensive shielding to reduce signal attenuation and is relatively stiff in comparison to previous generations of cabling. The shielding needs to be grounded and Cat7 also requires special GigaGate45 (CG45) connectors.

Category 8

Cat8 cable is still in the development stage. According to the 2015 Ethernet Alliance Roadmap, it will be able to support 25GB and 40Gb Ethernet. Cat8 will be able to support even faster transmission rates at distances of up to 30 meters.

Why are copper pairs twisted?

When telephone lines were first deployed alongside power lines, Alexander Graham Bell, popularly known as the inventor of the telephones, was the first person to twist copper pairs to reduce crosstalk between the lines. Twisting the copper cable every 3-4 utility poles allowed for the reduction of electromagnetic interference and an increase in range. Ethernet copper cables adopted the same technique to reduce crosstalk between internal wires (XT) and external wires (AXT).

Shielded (FTP) vs. Unshielded (UTP)

Twisted pair copper comes in shielded an unshielded forms. Shielded copper cable includes protective conductive coating such as braided strands of copper, copper tape or conductive polymer to reduce noise interference. Unshielded Twisted Pair, or UTP, includes no shielding and is ideal for most common LAN environments. Shielded twisted copper pairs, are reserved for networking environments with higher frequencies.

shielded-vs-unshielded-cables

There are many types of shielded copper pairs.  Sheathing can also envelop all four data pairs. Sheathing can wrap around twisted pairs.There are two sections to a shielded “code”. The first letter signifies the type of shield used to enclose all four twisted pairs of an Ethernet cable. An Unshielded cable is marked with a (U), a cable with Foil Shielding is marked with an (F), and a cable with Braided Shielding is marked with an (S).  The second portion of the code, describes if a twisted pair is foiled (F) or Unfoiled (U). TP stands for Twisted Pair.

Shielding Code Key

Shielding Code:

TP: Twisted Pair

U: Unshielded or Unscreened

F: Foil Shielding

S: Braided Shielding

Types of Shielded Ethernet Cables

F/UTP– Foiled/Unshielded Twisted Pair

Common in Fast Ethernet deployments, this cable will have a foil shield that wraps around unshielded twisted pairs.

S/UTP– Braided Shielding/ Unshielded Twisted Pair

This cable will wrap a braided shield around unshielded twisted pairs.

SF/UTP– Braided Shielding+Foil/Unshielded Twisted Pairs

This cable braids a shield around a foil wrap to enclose unshielded twisted pairs.

S/FTP– Braided Shielding/Foiled Twisted Pair

This cable wraps a braided shield around all four copper pairs. Additionally, each twisted pair is enveloped in foil.

F/FTP-Foiled/Foiled Twisted Pair

This cable encloses all copper pairs in foil. Additionally, each twisted pair is enveloped in foil.

U/FTP-Unshielded/Foiled Twisted Pairs

This cable only envelopes the twisted pairs in foil.

U/UTP-Unshielded/UnshieldedTwisted Pair

No sheathing is used. Standard Cat5e cable are examples of U/UTP cables.

Solid vs. Stranded Ethernet

These terms refer to Ethernet conductors. Stranded copper cables comprise of several thin copper cables. Solid cable conductors comprise of a single, thick copper cable conductor.

Want to learn more about the different networking topologies Ethernet is used for? Click Here!

 

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Comments (21)

  • Louis Reply

    Good work, but…

    In the table «Different Ethernet Categories», it is told that 1000BASE-T needs Cat5e cable. It is False. 1000BASE-T was standardized over Cat5 cable and is ccompatible with the subsequent evolution of Cat5 : Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a.

    In the «Category 6» section, it is first told that 10GBASE-T works over a maximum of 55 m of Cat6 cable, ant then that it works over 37 m of that cable. What is the right information ?

    October 4, 2016 at 6:51 am
    • D Admin Reply

      Hey! Thanks for catching that. You are right and we will definitely correct this asap!

      October 19, 2016 at 3:17 pm
    • Luke Reply

      Louis, while technically true, you are rolling the dice trying to get reliable gigabit speeds over Cat5 – especially with runs at max distance (100m) or in environments with interference sources.

      “As originally written, Cat-5 did not address factors such as powersum crosstalk and return loss (echo) which are essential for 4- pair full-duplex operation used in GbE.”

      I’ve seen many environments that tried to run full gigabit on Cat5 with disastrous results – we had to force their switches to stay at 100Mbps.

      http://www.iebmedia.com/ethernet.php?id=4622&parentid=74&themeid=255&showdetail=true

      August 2, 2017 at 2:34 pm
  • Blake Reply

    Hi! Can you correct the errors that Louis pointed out, also check the table that shows the “cable type” for cat7 as being “SSTP” I don’t see an explanation for the extra “s”. Do you mean “S/FTP”?

    Overall this page is fantastic, and I would love to use it as a training guide for my technicians.

    Thanks!

    April 20, 2017 at 8:22 am
    • PlanetechUSA Reply

      Thanks Blake for the comment! The changes should be made.

      Enjoy

      April 28, 2017 at 4:35 pm
      • Ethan Reply

        I’m still seeing the 55m and 37m discrepancies in the CAT6 information on this page.

        May 4, 2017 at 1:04 pm
        • PlanetechUSA Reply

          Thanks Ethan!

          The distance should actually be between 37-55m depending on crosstalk. I cleaned up the verbiage so hopefully that makes sense.

          May 5, 2017 at 1:07 pm
  • Matthew Posner Reply

    On CAT7 how can I confirm the the shields are being properly grounded?

    July 2, 2017 at 1:36 pm
    • PlanetechUSA Reply

      To ensure your cable is grounded correctly, you will need to terminate the shielded cable with a shielded RJ45 connector. The network device will need to be grounded as the cable is grounded through the device. If the network device cannot be grounded, you can solder a ground cable on the tab of the shielded RJ45 connector that also acts as a strain relief.
      Shielded RJ45 Connector

      July 10, 2017 at 12:23 pm
  • Ricardo Reply

    Just a question I will remake my network cabling with CAT6A, but my switch is only CAT6, will this work? or I have to change my switch too.

    July 5, 2017 at 7:44 am
    • PlanetechUSA Reply

      CAT6a will work perfectly fine as the cables will ultimately terminate with an RJ-45 connector. CAT6a cabling will give you the option to upgrade your switch to 10Gb in the future. There will not be a night and day difference if you upgrade your cabling but retain a 1Gb switched network.

      July 10, 2017 at 12:21 pm
  • Pradeep N Reply

    Hi, We have requirement of using CAT 6A for our ethernet requirement. We are planning on using CAT 7 cable. Is the CAT 7 cable compatible with the CAT 6A? And we are using MIL D38999 RJ 45 connector, wil it be compatible with the CAT 7 cable?

    July 21, 2017 at 9:09 am
    • PlanetechUSA Reply

      Hi Pradeep,

      To answer your questions, CAT6A cable is compatible with CAT7. For the MIL D38999 RJ45 connector, you will need to consult with the factory that produces the connector to see if it’s compatible with the CAT7 cable. Hope that helps.

      Thanks for reading the blog!

      July 21, 2017 at 4:33 pm
  • Harold Bryan Reply

    Hi, I’m used to working in the corporate level with a network that supported over 65 k people. I am trying to build a network at home and have ran Cat 6a cables a couple years ago. I live out in the forest and only can get 6Mbps down and 1-1/2 up. So really the cat 6a is overkill. I need to check on the switch creeds but I have an Ac 1200 Netgear Router. Is. There anything I can do to maximize my speed to the clients via LAN or Wi-Fi with only 6Mbps pipe coming in that is wireless internet transmitted on the 2.4 ghz band? Unfortunately , There is very little options living out here and Obama’s Law doesn’t care what high speed quality you have as long as there is anything including satellite, cellular wi-fi = slow and not reliable. Mine is reliable but it is $80.00 a month for 6 Mbps for wireless internet. That is about the best I can do out here even though the next Generation of Hughes is advertising much higher speeds, it takes nothing to use all your package and themn reduced to dial up speeds. I also know that from 30 years of living here that satellite is affected greatly by storms, rain and snow and there is nothing they can do about it and they make no adjustment to your bill for not having anything available.

    August 14, 2017 at 12:05 pm
    • PlanetechUSA Reply

      Hi Harold,
      It sounds like you have an extremely fast car but you’re only allowed to drive on bumpy and narrow alleyways. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to increase the speeds of your incoming connection. This is either throttled by your ISP or a limitation due to your geographical location. You can configure various types of QoS based on application or per connection but the incoming bottle neck connection will still remain at 6Mbps.

      August 16, 2017 at 4:16 pm
  • Harold Bryan Reply

    Forgot to mention I have been disabled for almost 10 years so I am not up to the most current standards

    August 14, 2017 at 12:07 pm
  • John Ball Reply

    Great article. I read through a few other “CAT” explanations before I stumbled upon this writeup. Much better than the others.

    August 29, 2017 at 6:19 pm
    • PlanetechUSA Reply

      Thanks John…glad you enjoyed it!

      August 31, 2017 at 10:43 am
  • Jeff Reply

    What about power-over-ethernet Poe? Which of these cables support that functionality for use in wiring network security cameras without the need for AC power or DC power to the camera aside from the cat cables?

    September 9, 2017 at 11:36 pm
    • PlanetechUSA Reply

      Not quite sure that we understand your question. CAT5 and up will support PoE. You must have a compatible or compliant PoE source such as a switch, hub or injector to power an IP security camera that is also PoE compatible or compliant.

      September 11, 2017 at 4:14 pm
  • Alim Reply

    Great article, I’m not “technically inclined”, but I was still able to figure out that it was time to upgrade our existing Cat5 cable lol

    September 10, 2017 at 12:54 pm

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