How to choose the right Ethernet cable

Cat5 vs Cat6 vs Cat7 vs Cat8

One of the most popular internet technology standards, if not the most, is Ethernet.   An Ethernet cable is an integral part of a Local Area Network (LAN).  Ethernet cables are the connections that link devices to different parts of the network.  There are many different categories of ethernet cables and most have different sub-categories within those standards.  Each cable type comes with their own benefits and limitations from cost to code compliance, as well as the distance and speeds at which they can carry signals effectively.  So today we are going to investigate the different ethernet cable categories and ask a few questions that may help you choose the option that best suits your individual application.


It is said that most computer technology doubles every 18-24 months!


Most computers are currently linked at Gigabit ethernet speeds and have been for some time.  Technological advancements continue to drive demand for higher performance.  For example, if you are wanting to achieve 10,000 Mb/s, a higher category of cabling will be necessary.  The real question is which type of cable should I use?  Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6A, Cat7, Cat7A, or Cat8?


First let’s look at the different cable types and speeds

Cat5 cable wires

Cat5 and Cat5e

Cat5 cable supports speeds up to 100Mb/s (100 MHz), however due to these cables minimal transmission speed and limited distance applications, they are considered outdated in the industry today and we do not recommend Cat5 cable for any new installations.

Cat5e is an improvement over the Cat5 standard, and the “e” stands for enhanced. Cat5e cable supports speeds up to a Gigabit Ethernet (1,000Mb/s) (100 MHz).  Cat5e has advancements that result in a better communication process. Cat5e can handle situations like crosstalk and EMI better than the Cat5 standard.  Cat5e cables are used for telephony and video signal transmission.  When used on those long cable runs Cat5e can still deliver speeds of 100Mb/s transmission at a distance of 100 meters.  It is the least expensive modern Category cable.  Since the price point of Cat6 cable continues to drop, depending on when you are looking to purchase and install our cabling, the savings in choosing Cat5e over Cat6 may or may not be worth the slower speed constraints. 



Cat6 and Cat6A

Cat6 is the 6th generation of Ethernet cabling used in business and home networks.  It is the current “current standard” cabling used in modern office buildings. Cat6 is backward compatible with the Cat5e and Cat5 standards that came before it. These cables support Ethernet data rates of up to 1 Gigabit per second at a frequency of 250MHz. Cat6 cables can also provide transmission of 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections but only for shorter distances (about 55 meters). 


Comparison Cat6 vs Cat6A

Cat6A is the next step up from Cat6 cable, the “A” stands for Augmented in this type of cable.  The “augmented” cable improves the Cat6 ethernet cables allowing them to support data rates of 10 Gigabit/s for a full 100 meters.  Cat6A cable is thicker, has a tighter twist in the wire pairs, and is more expensive than Cat6 cable.



So, what is the main difference between Cat6 and Cat5e cable?  The easy answer in two words is transmission performance.  Cat6 cable has a thicker gauge and a tighter twist, together they reduce interference, when compared to Cat5e cable.  This means Cat6 has a higher signal-to-noise ratio compared to Cat5e.  If you want to be sure of getting the best speeds, then Cat6 or Cat6a cables are a good bet. They often do not cost that much more than Cat5e cable, and for futureproofing they may be a very wise option.



Cat7 and Cat7A

Cat7 wires

When most people hear of Cat7 or Cat7A cabling, they think it is the latest and greatest even faster version of Cat5e or Cat6 cabling, they are however, wrong.  Cat7/Cat7A cabling are proprietary cables that have no official blessing from the networking industry.  The lack of an actual IEEE cabling standard shows in areas like the proprietary connector used with this cable type instead of the standard RJ45 connector we are all used to.  Until Cat7/Cat7A cable obtains an official IEEE or EIA standardization; cables, connectors, and keystones for Cat7/Cat7A will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.  If a faster copper alternative to Cat6A is needed, then Cat8 may be your solution.



Category 8 is the official successor to Cat6A cabling. It has official recognition by the IEEE and EIA, this means that all parts and pieces are standardized across all manufacturers. The primary benefit of Cat8 cabling is faster throughput over short distances: 40 Gbps up to 78 ft. and 25 Gbps up to 100 ft. From 100 to 328 ft. though, Cat8 provides the same 10Gbps throughput as Cat6A cabling.

Cat8 wires

Due to these distance limitations, Cat8 would be utilized most effectively inside a data center to connect network equipment to each other. Cat8 would not be the most cost-effective solution for an office build out, as the distance would quickly drop the throughput speed to the equivalent of Cat6A cable.  Think it over and please do not pay more for Cat8 in applications where Cat6A, which is cheaper to procure and install, will provide the same performance.


Still not sure which cable is right for you? Find the answers to these 3 questions first.

  1. How long will you occupy the building?

  2. What devices and applications will you be using and what are their requirements?

  3. Do you need a warranty to protect your investment?

Typically cabling represents 3% (or less) of the overall networking budget.  It is expected to last a minimum of 10 years and should be suitable for 2 to 3 generations of technological advancements.  The networking infrastructure is by far the most expensive and labor-intensive part of a network to have to replace.  So, take the time to consider your options carefully, as choosing the right cable for your installation will definitely save you both time and money in the long run.

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