Everything to Know about Ethernet Cables

When it comes to Ethernet cables, there are several options to choose from, each with its own unique features and advantages. In this blog, we will discuss the differences between Cat6, Cat7, and Cat8 Ethernet cables.

What Is an Ethernet Cable?

Ethernet cables are used to connect modems, routers, and computers together on a network. An Ethernet cable is a standard cable that was developed in the 1980s. They are thick, flexible cables that are made up of two or more wires which run side by side and are twisted, braided or bonded together. Each end of the cable can be attached to a different device on your network. On the outside, all Ethernet cables look pretty much the same, however different categories of cables have different capabilities.

Wire Structure

There are two main types of Ethernet cables: UTP (unshielded twisted pair) and STP (Shielded twisted pair).

Unshielded Twisted Pairs (UTP): Unshielded cabling does not have foil or braided shielding which makes their signal quality not as good as a shielded type and they are more susceptible to crosstalk. They are however cheaper and more flexible than the shielded cables.

Shielded Twisted Pairs (STP): Shielded cables have a braided shielding which is usually made from copper or another conductive polymer substance which helps to protect them. This protection reduces noise and crosstalk thus giving them a better connection quality.

Ethernet Cable Categories: Cat 6 vs Cat 6a vs Cat 7 vs Cat 8:
Cat 6 Cable

Cat6 Ethernet cables were introduced in the early 2000s and are still widely used today. They are capable of supporting data transfer rates of up to 10 Gbps at a maximum distance of 55 meters (180ft). Cat6 cables are made up of four twisted pairs of copper wires, and it’s an unshielded twisted pair design. They are also backward compatible with older Ethernet standards, such as Cat5 and Cat5e.

One advantage of Cat6 Ethernet cables is their affordability. They are widely available and cost less than newer Ethernet cables like Cat7 and Cat8.

Another advantage is their compatibility with existing network equipment, which makes them a good choice for most home and small business networks.

Cat 6a Cable

The Cat 6a is an improvement on the CAT 6 in that it is able to accommodate 10 Gigabit Ethernet data rates up to 328 feet on a single cable. The “A” added onto the CAT 6 cable means that this type of CAT 6 has been augmented.  This means that it is twice as fast as the CAT 6. They are thicker than the CAT 6 cable but they still use the same RJ-45 connectors. The faster speed of the CAT 6A does come at a higher price tag though.

CAT 6a cables have also been shielded which means that they have a thicker covering which helps to eliminate crosstalk completely.

Cat 7 Cable

Cat7 Ethernet cables were originally ratified in 2002 and offer several improvements over Cat6 cables. They are capable of supporting data transfer rates of up to 10 Gbps at a maximum distance of 100 meters. Cat7 cables are made up of four twisted pairs of copper wires and are typically shielded to reduce interference from other electronic devices. The foil shield/screen further reduces interference and crosstalk.

One advantage of Cat7 Ethernet cables is their superior shielding, which makes them less susceptible to interference from other electronics. This makes them a good choice for installation spots where there are a lot more other electronic devices, for example, data centers and other industrial sites.

Another advantage is their future-proofing capabilities, as they are capable of supporting even higher data transfer rates than current network equipment can handle.

Cat 8 Cable

Cat8 Ethernet cables were released in 2016 and are the newest and fastest Ethernet cables available. They are capable of supporting data transfer rates of up to 40 Gbps at a maximum distance of 30 meters.

Cat8 cables are made up of four twisted pairs of copper wires and are all shielded to reduce interference from other electronic devices (basically, there is no unshielded version of CAT8). They also have a thicker shielding layer than Cat6 and Cat7 cables, which further reduces interference and crosstalk.

One advantage of Cat8 Ethernet cables is their high speed, which makes them a good choice for networks that require large amounts of data to be transferred quickly, such as high-performance computing environments.

Another advantage is their better performance on Power over Ethernet (PoE). While Cat6 and Cat7 cables can support up to 90W of power, Cat8 cables are capable of carrying up to 200W of power. This is due to the larger gauge wires used in Cat8 cable, which can handle more current and reduce the resistance that can cause power loss and heat generation.

Specifications
ParameterCat 6Cat 6aCat 7Cat 8
Max Bandwidth250 MHz500 MHz600 MHz40 GHz
Data Transfer Rate10 Gbps10 Gbps10 Gbps40 Gbps
Cable Diameter6.1 mm8.38 mm8.51 mm8.66 mm
Bend Radius122 mm166 mm160 mm172 mm
Pull Tension25 lbs.25 lbs.25 lbs.25 lbs.
PoE90W90W90W200W
Costless than Cat 6a20-30% more than Cat 620-30% more than Cat 630-40% more than Cat 7
What Do the Different Ethernet Cable Speeds Mean?

When looking at the speed of the various Ethernet cables it can be a bit confusing as to what they actually mean and to visualize how fast or slow each one is. To give you a clearer picture of how fast these cable speeds are, consider the following:

Imagine you were trying to download some movies. Each movie was 4.5 GB in size. If the Ethernet cable you are using has a speed of 10 Mbps then that means you would be able to download one 4.5 GB movie in one hour.

The following chart will give you a better idea of how fast each cable speed will be by showing you how many movies could be downloaded in one hour.

Ethernet Cable SpeedNo. of Movies (4.5GB) Downloaded in 1 Hour
10 Mbps = 1.2 MB/second1
100 Mbps = 12 MB/second10
1.0 Gbps = 125 MB/second100
10 Gbps = 1.25 Gbps 10001000
In summary, the main differences among Cat6, Cat7, and Cat8 Ethernet cables are their maximum data transfer rates, maximum distances, shielding, and cost.

Cat6 cables are affordable and widely compatible but have a lower maximum data transfer rate than Cat7 and Cat8 cables. Cat7 cables have superior shielding and future-proofing capabilities but are more expensive than Cat6 cables. Cat8 cables are the fastest and most expensive ethernet cables available and are best suited for high-performance computing environments and data centers.