Which data cable should I use for my network?

Which data cable should I use for my network?

Part one - choosing the right cable category

You’ve decided to ditch those pesky WiFi boosters and powerline adapters to install a robust, smart home network or you are adding data points to your office or expanding a warehouse. This guide will help you to make the right decisions to deliver your fast reliable network.

This guide is intended to support you in some of the difficult decisions you will be faced with when you go about installing a robust, smart network for yourself. Deciding on which cable to use for your installation can be overwhelming… gigabits, U/UTPs, cat5, cat7…? This guide will help you to make those decisions as well as those you didn’t know you needed to make.

What is a data cable ‘category’ and which should I use?

A cable’s category describes its speed variations and how susceptible it is to interference or crosstalk. The below descriptions should give you an idea of the category of cable you need with an indication of how they compare cost-wise.

In this guide, we look at Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6A and Cat7.

Category 5e (Cat5e)

Cat5e copper network cable

Overview: Cat5e used to be the go-to cable for the majority of network installs. It is still installed today but with the increasing demand for faster connections and this cable’s inability to provide a 5GBASE-T connection, manufacturers are slowing down production and it is being phased out by installers. Cat6 is steadily taking its place.

Price: Low cost

Performance: Cat5e cable is rated at 100Mhz and supports, 1GBASE-T and 2.5GBASE-T* connections. This means it can support connection speeds of up to 2,500 Megabits per second.** Cat5e cables suffer from crosstalk due to the construction of the cable and each pair being in close proximity.

*ISO, EN & TIA standards do not recognise 2.5GBASE-T or 5GBASE-T as supported applications over Cat5e & Cat6 cables.

**These speeds are achievable with professional installation and distances of up to 90m of solid, horizontal cabling (with up to 5m of patch cabling at each end). This gives a total connection distance of 100m as per the IEEE standard.

Category 6 (Cat6)

Cat6 copper network cable

Overview: Cat6 cables are an affordable, cost-effective solution for any home network.

Price: Slightly higher priced than Cat5e but Cat6 cables are a cost-effective solution for a home network requiring better performance than Cat5e can offer.

Performance: A Cat6 cable achieves 250Mhz per second and supports 1GBASE-T, 2.5GBASE-T and 5GBASE-T* connections. This means it can support connection speeds of 5 Gigabits per second (5,000 Megabits per second).**

Wireless Access Points (WAPs) that claim ‘Multi Gigabit’ or ‘Multi Gigabit switching’ can support 1GBASE-T, 2.5GBASE-T and 5GBASE-T connections. Due to this multigigabit support, Cat6 cable is an affordable cost-effective solution for any home network.

Cat6 has less crosstalk (compared to Cat5e) due to a central divider that separates the pairs of internal wires.

*ISO, EN & TIA standards do not recognise 2.5GBASE-T or 5GBASE-T as supported applications over Cat5e & Cat6 cables.

**These speeds are achievable with professional installation and distances of up to 90m of solid, horizontal cabling (with up to 5m of patch cabling at each end). This gives a total connection distance of 100m as per the IEEE standard.

Category 6A (CAT6A)

Cat6A copper network cable

Overview: If you are wanting a fast, future-resilient install, Cat6A is the cable you are looking for. This true 10 Gigabit cable has strict industry standards that dictate how it is installed. The cable has a larger diameter with less ‘bend’ so installation is more time-consuming, with more expertise required.

Price: Cat6A comes at a higher price; the cabling, termination equipment and supporting materials are pricier than with Cat6 and Cat5e.

Performance: Cat6A cable achieves 500Mhz per second. The big drawing point is that it supports a massive 10GBASE-T connection, that’s 10 Gigabits per second (10,000 megabits per second). It also supports 1GBASE-T, 2.5GBASE-T and 5GBASE-T connections.*

Cat6A has a hugely reduced crosstalk which improves the overall performance of the cable.

*These speeds are achievable with professional installation and distances of up to 90m of solid, horizontal cabling (with up to 5m of patch cabling at each end). This gives a total connection distance of 100m as per the IEEE 802.3an standard.

Category 7 (Cat7)

Cat7 data cable

Overview: Cat7 is a valuable cable for short distances and is used to create high-speed connections between servers in data centres. To extract its full potential and get your value for money, your cable runs (direct ethernet connections to equipment) must be shorter than 40m.

Cat7 has some confusion around its standards. It is not rated or accepted as a cabling system under the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), but it is accepted under European Standards (EN) and the Institute of Standards (ISO).

TIA is part of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ISO and EN set the standards for Europe.

 

Price: Cat7 comes at a big price with cables and equipment being much more expensive than Cat6A.

Performance: Cat7 achieves 600 Mhz per second. In a laboratory environment with solid, horizontal cabling, you can achieve 40 Gigabit speeds at 40m and 100 Gigabit speeds at 15m. This is difficult to achieve in a home environment and the supporting network equipment is limited.

When you extend the distance of Ca7 to 90m, it will only reach the same speeds as Cat6A so then its performance is not much different from Cat6A.

AUTHORITY BODY REGION CAT7 APPROVED? CAT6A APPROVED? CAT6 APPROVED? CAT5e APPROVED?
Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) (falls under ANSI) AMERICA NO YES YES YES
European Standards (EN) EUROPE YES YES YES YES
Institute of Standards (ISO) EUROPE YES YES YES YES
American National Standards Institute (ANSI) AMERICA NO YES YES YES
The best option for my home network data cabling system

Cat6 is a cost-effective data cabling system. Due to its multigigabit support and low crosstalk, we advise on using a minimum category of Cat6 cable for the majority of network installations.

For future proof installs, choose Cat6A

If you are focused on installing a network that is future-proof (and will save you time and effort in years to come), then the slightly pricier Cat6A installation is your choice. Read part two “Should I use screened or unscreened data cable” where we delve into another choice you will be faced with after selecting your cable category – screened or unscreened! 

Contact us today

If you are struggling with which category cable to use or need help with your final decision, get in touch. We are happy to help, advise or perform a survey and discuss carrying out the installation with your vision in mind.

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