Understanding Ethernet Cables – Are Yours Up to the Job?

One of the most common questions people often have when it comes to Ethernet cables is what do the numbers mean and what’s the difference? We hear this question from both people looking to change or upgrade their home network and from businesses hoping to do the same.

If you have ever paid attention to your current ethernet cables – which it is probably unlikely you do – you know that would each cable is labeled with the abbreviation “Cat,” followed by a number like 6, 6a, or 7. Essentially, “Cat” just means “category.” The number that follows refers to the cable’s specifications, such as bandwidth and transmission speed.

As a rule, you can conclude that the higher the number, the better it works, the faster it is, and the more bandwidth it offers. Right now, cables range from Cat 3 to Cat 7, though Cat 8 is on the horizon. Here’s a brief look at what you can expect from each one to help you determine if it might just be time to upgrade yours.

Cat 3 Ethernet Cables

These are no longer in use and would be difficult to find on the market. If you are still making use of them it would be unusual if they offer you much in the way of functionality at all because simply put, they are just too old to do so.

Cat 5 Ethernet Cables

Like Cat 3, these cables are no longer in production, though you may find a few people still using them even though they really shouldn’t be because they really aren’t up to the demands of even a small home network.

Cat 5e Ethernet Cables

The most popular type of cable on the market right now, Cat 5e is an enhanced version of the Cat 5 cable. It’s faster than Cat 5, cheaper to produce, and it is better at eliminating crosstalk.

Cat 6 Ethernet Cables

Cat 6 Ethernet cables support one and a half times the bandwidth of the Cat 5 cables. They cost more, but the introduction of Cat 6 cables led to added shielding which protects the wires and eliminates crosstalk completely.

Cat 6a Ethernet Cables

The Cat 6a Ethernet cable is an augmented version of the Cat 6 cable. It features the shielding to eliminate crosstalk, and it can support 500 MHz of bandwidth, compared to the Cat 6’s 250 MHz the cable is more expensive and less flexible than the previous ones.

Cat 7 Ethernet Cables

If you are looking for the latest technology, support for the most bandwidth, and the fastest speeds, the Cat 7 Ethernet cable is the choice for you. These cables are always shielded and well worth the premium price.

If you check your ethernet cables and discover that yes, they are pretty outdated don’t feel too bad. Most people don’t give their ethernet cables a second thought once they are installed and they don’t always think about them if their networks fail to perform. Some invest in new modems or routers that they may not even need before they check something that is actually much simpler and cheaper to replace.

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