CAT Ratings for Ethernet: Everthing You Need To Know

If you are in the position of choosing an Ethernet cable for your network, it pays to be well informed on different Ethernet cable categories. Ethernet cable categories start at Cat3 and run up through Cat8 (skipping Cat4). Quite literally, choosing the correct cable can save you money even if the right cable for you isn’t the cheapest one available. 

Learn more about the different Ethernet cable categories and how choosing a more expensive cable might actually save you money in the long run.

What Are Cat Ratings for Ethernet? 

Cat ratings are category ratings for Ethernet cables. The higher the number, the more bandwidth and data the cable can support. 

There are eight categories of Ethernet cables, although the lower cable categories have effectively been phased out of use today. The eight categories of Ethernet cables are Cat3, Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, Cat7a, and Cat8. 

Cat3 and Cat5 cables are no longer widely used for Ethernet, and neither of them would be a good cable choice for most businesses today. 

Cat5e cables, however, are still pretty widely used today, especially in homes. Cat5e cables have a maximum data transmission of 1 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 100 MHz. 

Cat6 cables have a maximum data transmission of 1 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 250 MHz.

Cat6a cables have a maximum data transmission of 10 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 500 MHz.

Cat7 cables have a maximum data transmission of 100 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 600 MHz.

Cat7a cables have a maximum data transmission of 100 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 1,000 MHz.

Cat8 cables have a maximum data transmission of 40 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 2,000 MHz.

How to Choose an Ethernet Cable 

It might make sense to simply choose the highest category cable available for your business, but there are other variables to consider when choosing a cable. 

Of course, higher cables deliver faster speeds, but they do so to the detriment of the cable’s flexibility and ease of installation. They also cost more than lower category cables. A higher category cable may not physically work in your space. It might also make installation more difficult, labor-intensive, and thus expensive. 

Additionally, installing a cable category that is higher than your devices or network can support might not be worth your money. Having a higher cat cable alone won’t give you faster speeds. However, this is where it gets a bit tricky because you want to install cables that will be ready to support your business in the future.

How a More Expensive Cable Can Save You Money

Today, your devices might not be able to run at the higher speeds supported by a Cat7 cable, for example, but that might not be the case in three years. Higher cat cables are more future-proof than lower cat cables. Installing a higher cat cable today could save you money because it will prevent you from needing to reinstall and re-buy cable in a few years. 

There is a lot to consider when choosing the right cable. Below, you’ll find comparisons of different cable types to help you make your decision. 

Is Cat6 or 5 Better?  

Almost without fail, Cat6 is better than Cat5. Cat5 is quickly becoming outdated, and devices in the future may not support Cat5 cables. If you’re trying to decide between the two, always go with Cat6. 

Is Cat 5 or 5e Better?

Again, Cat5 cables are being phased out in many cases, so it’s almost always better to go with Cat5e. While Cat5e may become antiquated in the near future, it is still in use today, and it can provide the speeds your business needs to function. 

Is Cat6 or 6a Better? 

Deciding between Cat6 and Cat6a is a bit trickier. Cat6 is a good choice. It’s a flexible cable that is compatible with modern devices and network speeds. It’s also cheaper than Cat6a cable. Cat6a cable, however, is quickly becoming more prevalent and is the ultimate option if you want to future-proof your business and save money long-term. The chances of needing to reinstall and upgrade cabling in the near future if you choose Cat6a are slim. If, however, you go with Cat6, you might find yourself spending money on cable and installation again in the next 10 or 20 years. 

Is Cat6 or 7 Better? 

Cat6 and Cat6a cables are both reasonable options for most businesses. If you need more bandwidth than Cat6a can offer, it makes sense to go with the more expensive Cat7 or Cat7a cable. These cables will be more expensive and more difficult to install, however. When analyzing your business needs, it might make sense to spend more money and work through a more difficult installation. If, however, you don’t need that bandwidth, it’s best to go with Cat6a. 

Is Cat8 or 7 Better? 

While most cable categories increase data transmission and bandwidth in small increments, Cat8 makes a huge jump from its closest category, Cat7a. Most businesses won’t need Cat8 cables. If you’re transmitting a lot of data, however, Cat8 cables are top-of-the-line. They’re best for large server rooms and data centers, and they will definitely future-proof your business. For many businesses, however, they’re unnecessary and Cat7 or Cat6a cables will suffice. 

Understanding Cat Ratings for Ethernet 

With a better understanding of cat ratings for Ethernet, you can choose the right cable for your business. To be most efficient, choose the cable that can support your devices and desired network speeds. A cable that supports speeds faster than your network provides is likely a waste of money. 

By choosing Cat6a or higher, you can be confident that your business is future-proofed, and you won’t need to run new cables in the near future. As technology inevitably continues to advance and change, new cable categories may yet be on the horizon

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