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Ethernet Cable Types – Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, and Cat7

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When selecting the appropriate network cable categories to support your network, note that there are different grades within each Category. A higher grade cable with the proper installation will allow for a higher margin of error, ensuring top performance today and an extra buffer to support future technology. Properly selecting Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7 solutions will optimally support current and future network speed requirements. But which one should you choose among different Ethernet cable types? This text will give you some guidance.

Ethernet Cable Types: Cat5e has Replaced Cat5 Ethernet Cable

cat5e ethernet cableCat5 cable can support 10/100 Ethernet. That is, Ethernet and Fast Ethernet. However, Cat 5e cable can support Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, and Gigabit Ethernet. Cat5e cable is completely backwards compatible, and can be used in any application in which you would normally use Cat 5 cable. Crosstalk is the electrical interference that results when one wire’s signal affects another wire’s signal. Cat5e cable has been improved over Cat5 cable in this respect, and cross talk has been greatly reduced. We all know that bandwidth is directly related to network support. The greater the bandwidth, the greater the information-carrying capacity in a given period of time. Cat5e cable is rated at 100 MHz, and it is this increased bandwidth (compared to Cat5 cable) that allows it to support Gigabit Ethernet. Since 1G is widely used today, the Cat5e has gradually replaced the Cat5.

Ethernet Cable Types: Choose Cat5e or Cat6 Ethernet Cable?

cat6 UTP patch cableCat6 is a standardized cable for Gigabit Ethernet and other network physical layers that is backward compatible with the Cat5/5e and Cat3 cable standards. Compared with Cat5 and Cat5e,  Cat6 features more stringent specifications for crosstalk and system noise. The cable standard provides performance of up to 250 MHz and is suitable for 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX (Fast Ethernet), 1000BASE-T/1000BASE-TX (Gigabit Ethernet). We may notice that both Cat5e and Cat6 can support Gigabit Ethernet, however, Cat6 is certified for Gigabit networking and will perform better over longer distances. So choosing the Cat6 cable will be more stable to meet the Gigabit needs. But one thing you should keep in mind is that your network is only as fast as your slowest component, so unless every piece of your network (routers, cables, etc.) supports Gigabit Ethernet, you will not be able to reach those speeds.

Ethernet Cable Types: Cat6 vs Cat6a Ethernet Cable

cat6a stp cableThe latest standard from the TIA for enhanced performance standards for twisted pair cable systems was defined in February 2009 in ANSI/TIA-568-C.1. According to this standard, Cat6a is also called Augmented Cat6, which is 10-Gigabit Ethernet over copper proposal to the Cat6 standard. Category 6a performs at improved specifications, in particular in the area of alien crosstalk as compared to Cat6, which exhibited high alien noise in high frequencies. Cat6 specifies cable operating at minimum frequency of 500 MHz—twice that of Cat 6, for both shielded and unshielded. It can support future 10 Gb/s applications up to the maximum distance of 100 meters on a 4-connector channel. Compared with the Cat6, Cat6a is more effective and flexible. As 10G is more and more widely used, Cat6a will become more and more popular.

Cat7 Will be the Ethernet Cable of Choice

cat7 network patch cableCat7 cables are designed to support much higher frequency signals than Cat5e and Cat6. This allows Cat7 cabling to carry a larger amount of information. Cat7 cable is also able to better protect the signals traveling over the cable. The shielding as well as the tighter twists of the pairs in Cat7 cable lessens the effects of crosstalk and EMI. Cat7 cable is commonly terminated using a GG45 connector, which is a connector that it backwards compatible with the 8p8c RJ45 connectors used on Cat6 or Cat5e cable. The GG45 connector has four additional conductors that provide support for frequencies of up to 600MHz. The higher frequencies allow Cat 7 cable to support 10-Gigabit Ethernet. Currently, Cat7 is not widely adopted. Cat5e and Cat6 solutions sufficiently support the bandwidth requirements of today’s data centers, networks, and end users. Using Cat7 for a connection to a desktop would be unnecessary because the bandwidth would not be utilized. It may also be an unnecessary expense for many data center applications for the same reason. However, as technology advances and requirements increase, Cat7 cable will become more relevant in the data center and desktop connections.

Comparison of Different Ethernet Cable Types

Some specifications for Cat5, Cat6, Cat7 are introduced above, then I will show you a table. From the table below, you can see their differences more clearly:

Comparison of Different Ethernet Cable Types

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Why Choose Shielded Cable for Cabling System?

Shielded VS. Unshielded Cabling

In copper structured cabling system at all levels, there are two main network cable technical types: Shielded and Unshielded cabling systems. Both types have been in existence since the earliest cabling standards were defined. Shielded cabling using shielded cable became popular from the outset in countries like Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France, while U/UTP was quickly adopted in the rest of the world. Although both systems work fine at 1 Gigabit Ethernet data rates, shielded systems can demonstrate superior performance at higher data rates such as 10G due to their ability to reliably support higher frequency transmission.

Cable structure shielded cable vs unshielded cable

What Is the Function of a Shielded Cable?

F/UTP Shielded Cable

F/UTP cable shielding structure: Four pairs of wires in the data cable have a layer of aluminum foil shielded, this layer of shielding (also called screening) protects against EMI/FRI and crosstalk.

S/FTP Shielded Cable

In S/FTP structure, in addition to the braided foil shield, the four twisted pairs have a layer of aluminum foil shield respectively to protect the transmission signal and make sure they do not interfere with each other, making near-end crosstalk attenuation (NEXT) performance dramatically good. Better NEXT performance means higher SNR and better transmission quality and faster system output. S/FTP shielded cables’ excellent NEXT structural performance can not be compared by other cables (such as non-shielded U/UTP). Therefore, ISO11801 on the Cat7 cable (600MHz) and Cat7a  (1000MHz) only provides the S/FTP cable structure, U/UTP cannot meet.

10GBase-T Makes Data Cable Face New Problem: Alien Crosstalk

2006 Copper Gigabit Ethernet applications published the proposed new standard transport protocols 10GBASE-T. Compared to 1000Base-T, its transmission rate increased 10 times. 1000BASE-T copper cabling has requirements for parameters (Attenuation, NEXT, Return Loss, etc.). The bandwidth required to reach 1-100MHz with UTP Cat5e (Class D) cabling system. 10GBASE-T cabling channel requirements of all component parameters have to be up to 500MHz bandwidth, which requires copper to reach at least Cat6a (Class Ea) or higher level.

Along with the development of 10GBASE-T, external noise problems become more evident, resulting in a specification for external noise to be used to assess in the same bundle of cables, the interaction between different cables. This is what we call Alien Crosstalk. Alien Crosstalk will increase with the increase of frequency. Worse, 10GBASE-T confronted with external noise, will not be able to “adaptive” to lower the rate at which the network may be subsequently face paralysis. Therefore, to support 10GBASE-T cabling system application, the ability to resist alien crosstalk is vital.

Since 10GBASE-T high transmission frequencies and complex coding method is very sensitive to the external noise. Shielding system excellent coupling attenuation performance makes it naturally have to resist alien crosstalk. The unshielded system against alien crosstalk is usually only on the performance of 0dB. Shielding system in the design completely satisfies the application of 10G.

The Installation of 10GBase-T: U/UTP VS. FTP 80a

Unshielded System

As far as possible away from power cable during installation. Different applications (1Gb/s and 10Gb/s) in the same pipeline transmission will cause the external crosstalk.

Shielding System 

The advantages of using a shielding system can be technically proven by different complex parameters such as coupling attenuation, shielding efficiency and transfer impedance. But from a user’s point of view, what makes the most sense is the practical advantage of a shielded cable-based cabling solution in the ever-increasing world of high-speed network applications. The advantage of shielded cables over UTP cables is that they are aimed at deepening the effects of EMI caused by the widespread use of electronic devices. Moreover, an increase in the rate of network applications means that the network is more sensitive to EMI.

The Separation Distance Between the Data Cable and Power Cable

EN50174 standard defines the content of four different coupling attenuation value levels of data cable respectively from A (low coupling attenuation, worse) to D (high coupling attenuation, good).

Classification of information technology cables

Screened Unscreened Coaxial/twinaxial Segregation classification
Coupling attenuation at 30 Mhz to 100 Mhz TCL at 30 MHz to 100 MHz Screening attenuation at 30 MHz to 100 MHz
>= 80dB >= 70 -10xlg(f) dB >= 85dB d
>= 55dB >= 60 -10xlg(f) dB >= 55 dB c
>= 40 dB >= 50 -10xlg(f)dB >= 40 dB b
< 40 dB <50 -10xlg(f) dB < 40 dB a

Installers need to know which cable separated levels to determine the choice of the data requirements of the standard cable with power cable between the minimum separation distance. Data cable coupling attenuation higher the value and power cables minimum separation distance between the smaller. Please refer to the following three examples, screenshots from Nexans Toolkit.

U/UTP

Example 1: U/UTP (Class B – Coupling Attenuation >/= 40dB) -> 225mm

F/UTP

Example 2: F/UTP (Class C – Coupling Attenuation >/= 55dB)-> 114mm

S/FTP

Example 3: S/FTP (Class D – Coupling Attenuation >/= 80dB)-> 24mm

Relative to the shielded cable, the unshielded (U/UTP) separation distance between cable and power cable is further. In the implementation of the project, if need the data cable and power cable isolation far distance, we need a bigger size pipe/bridge, or even additional bridge, doing this will no doubt have higher cost, sometimes limited to the bridge installation space. To make matters worse, these additional requirements are often neglected or ignored, making network system the key point of interference.

Grounding

For shielded, unshielded systems and fiber optic cable, they all need to implement protective grounding. Because of the need to consider personal and equipment safety, therefore no matter adopt what kind of cabling system, the metal part of the system must be grounded. For the shielding system, also need to implement the functional ground.

Conclusion

Shielding system relative to the unshielded system has been greatly improved EMC performance. For Gigabit Ethernet applications, shielding against external interference effects is essential, and shielded cabling system had to meet the standards in the design of anti-alien crosstalk (A-XT) requirements, can effectively prevent the cable from the adjacent between the external crosstalk. Shielded cabling system with shielded cable adopted, properly grounded at both ends of the case, is superior to unshielded system in resisting external interference.

Related Articles:
Ethernet Cable Types – Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, and Cat7
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Patch Cable vs.Crossover Cable: What Is the Difference?
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