What is category cable? Simple, it is the patch cable you plug into your computer, modem, or gaming console, to name a few! Seems pretty simple and easy, so why do we need to know more about it?
Category cable has been around a long time. Knowing what it is, allows you to make the right decisions when it comes to connecting your smart home devices or even better yet, prewiring your home or business. Certain cables are not able to keep up with the demand of current technology and future proof. Others are able but yet are extremely cost prohibitive. Let's dive into the different types.
So, the history of Category cable is like this:
Category 1 & 2: These 2 types are not even truly recognized or even know as Cat1 or Cat2. Category 1 cable was a single pair of cable and Category cable was 2 pairs of cables. Cat1 could only handle a 1MHz of bandwidth and Cat2 could handle up to 4MGz
Category 3: Cat3 is the first recognized category cable by the Electronic Industry Alliance (EIA) and the Telecommunication Industry Association (TIA). They have created the TIA/EIA-568-B standard for category cable. In the early '90s, this cable was used for computer cabling and offered a whopping 10base-T capability! This cable was also used for phone POTS lines as well.
Category 4: This category cable was around for only a hot minute! It could offer a 20MHz bandwidth and because Cat5 showed up quickly, this was not widely used.
Category 5: By the mid-'90s this category was being installed as a predominant Category cable. This version would be used till the early 2000s when it deemed second best to the new Cat5e version. Cat5 was rated for 10/100 networks but has been known to stretch to gigabit. This stretch is not recommended.
Category 5e: Being the next best option in the evolution of the Cat cable universe, the “e” stands for enhanced! At 100MHz bandwidth you the speeds become more consistent and you can get up to the 1Gigabit speeds more reliably and maintain them. This type of wire is still very common to see in use and still being installed. To better future proof your home or business I would recommend looking at the next category of cable.
Category 6: Being the new standard Cat6 is offering you even faster speeds yet! At a 250MHz bandwidth, it is offering you a 10Gigabit network. The one downside to running at that speed, it has a max run of 55 meters. Cat5 and Cat6 can be used at their speeds up too 100 meters. Whenever I am involved in a prewire, I always spec in Cat6 for anything that requires a category cable.
Category 6a: Like Cat6, this cable will run 10Gigabit, but it will take it a full 100 meters. It is specified to run at 500MHz bandwidth. This cable is a bit pricier and is used for specific applications where you know you are going to be over 55 meters. I have yet to run into a project where this cable is needed in a residential home. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a scenario that it wouldn’t be a good idea, just haven’t seen it yet. I almost forgot to mention, the “a” stands for augmented.
Category 7, Category 7a, and 8: As companies are making new types of improvements on cables, they are self-naming these cables as Cat7, Cat7a, and Cat8. These cables have not been adopted by the Electronic Industry Alliance (EIA) or the Telecommunication Industry Association (TIA), yet. These types of cables I would think to be better suited for the IT department of a very busy commercial operation. The bandwidth and the cost that comes with them would not be found typically.
So, what have we learned…? Too much most likely! LoL, At the end of the day, make sure that you have the correct cable installed or planning to install. If you question what category cable you have, then look on the outer jacket. It will have the specifications of what type of wire it is.
Next thing to start thinking about is the termination of the cables at the wall level as well as where you need to pull them to. Having all your cables pulled to one location so they can be terminated into patch panels is a typical way to do it. There are exceptions to this, but you typically will want your network and your patch panels close to each other.
In another article, we will discuss the termination of the patch panels, wall plates, and end terminations of the cables.
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