what data cable should I buy

Choosing the Right Type of Data Cable for Internet and More

At first glance, all data cables may seem equal. However, the various kinds of cabling available do have distinct capabilities and uses. What’s the difference? How do you know which kind of cable you really need? Before we can answer that, some background information is necessary.

CAT ratings? What are those?

Each kind of data cabling has a ‘CAT,’ or ‘Category,’ rating. These ratings specify the standard minimum capabilities of the cable. It tells you exactly how much data the cable can transfer across a specific distance (usually 100 meters) at a specific speed, typically expressed in gigabytes per second. 

It also tells you the cable’s bandwidth – the range of frequencies the cable can reliably use to transfer data. More frequencies available means more data can be transmitted. Think of it like the difference between driving in a narrow alley versus on an open highway. 

Now let’s talk about what each kind of data cabling can do.

Data transfer capabilities

CAT 5

With the processing power most modern devices have, Cat5 cable is virtually obsolete – it simply can’t keep up. It’s rated for 100mbps, or megabytes per second, at a distance of 100 meters with 100Mhz (megahertz) of bandwidth. 

CAT 5e

The ‘e’ stands for ‘enhanced.’ This cable is rated for 1 gigabyte per second – ten times faster than basic CAT 5 – at 100m, again with 100Mhz of bandwidth. This is generally considered the minimum in terms of speed and quality; anything less is not recommended.

How is CAT 5e so much faster than CAT 5? The difference is in it’s construction. CAT 5 cable is made up of two pairs of wires twisted around each other, whereas CAT 5e cable has four pairs of wires. In addition to the improved structure, CAT 5e cable is built with better shielding. The result is a reduction in interference, allowing for faster transmission. 

CAT 6

Here we see another tenfold jump in transmission speed, from 1Gbps to 10Gbps. It also jumps up to a bandwidth of 250Mhz. Again, this is due to an improvement in the structure of the cable. The wire pairs are wound tighter, and a plastic core has been added to separate the internal wires, further reducing interference.

One important note: this cable is only rated at 10Gbps at a maximum length of 55 meters, not 100. It’s a good basic option for most consumers, but won’t be sufficient for industrial use.

CAT 6a

This cable is rated for 10Gbps at the full 100m, with 500Mhz bandwidth. This type of wire is sufficient for the vast majority of uses, including industrial. When in doubt, use CAT 6a cabling.

CAT 7

Rated for 10Gbps at 100m and with 600Mhz of bandwidth, CAT 7 cable can handle an incredible amount of data and dizzying speeds. With the strictest shielding requirements of any cable category, both between individual wires and around the entire cable, it’s designed for unparalleled reliability and speed in industrial use. It’s also useful in situations where serious future-proofing is necessary – for example, if the cabling will be completely inaccessible after installation. 

difference between data cables cat 6 cat 5 infographic

The takeaway

Unless you will be operating a stock exchange (or a business with a similar need for lightning-fast and ultra-reliable communication), CAT 7 is probably overkill. In most cases, CAT 6 or 6a will be sufficient. 

It’s important to note that the data cables are only one component of a complete structured cabling system. The cables, connections, other devices, and even the layout must work together harmoniously. To ensure the optimal performance of your network, let us handle the design and installation! Call Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy at (877) 300-4050 for a quote today, or your can click here to learn more about our low-voltage cabling services!

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