Category cables have been in use for a number of years. Most consumers will know these as network cables, Ethernet cables, or possibly even Cat-5 cables. However, they may not understand what Cat-5 means or how to determine if that is really the cable in use. Category cables have been upgraded multiple times and the vast majority of consumers are probably using Category 5e cable in their home networks. As our networking needs have increased, so have the cables, and a change is already underway to go beyond Cat-5e.
Category cables are designed to transfer data within networks. They are the standard method of connectivity for Ethernet networking. Cat-5e is still the most common cable but it is close to its limits. In fact, larger networks requiring higher bandwidth and better interference protection have already abandoned 5e. We are demanding more from our networks, transferring more data at faster speeds than ever before. In addition to Ethernet networking, category cables can now be used for audio and video networks. Dante audio networks transfer uncompressed multi-channel audio via category cables and HDBase-T promises to be the future of home audio and video integration. HDBase-T transmits high-definition audio and video, Ethernet, device control signals, USB data, and power all through one category cable. Category 5 cables cannot handle this much data.
In order to meet the bandwidth needs of newer networks, we must use Category 6 cable. Category 6 improves bandwidth and crosstalk protection over previous generations of category cable. It has been tested to perform up to 250 MHz and can transmit 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) for up to 55 meters. This is not to say it cannot go beyond these points, only that this is how the cable was tested. Category 6 cables also have several shielding options. You can purchase cables in the more traditional Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) construction, or with shielding around each twisted pair, the full cable assembly, or both. Hosa’s CAT-600BK series is an example of Category 6 cable with both shielding around each twisted pair and around the entire assembly.
In addition to the original Category 6 cable, a revision to the standard later added Cat-6A cable, also known as Category 6 Augmented. This cable provides even better protection against crosstalk and has been tested up to 500 MHz. Cat-6A can run 10 Gbps Ethernet up to 100 meters.
It’s important to note that while Cat-5e was the updated version of the original Category 5 standard, there is no Cat-6e version recognized by ANSI/TIA.
The good thing about category cables is that they are backward compatible. If you are setting up a new network, it is a good idea to use Cat-6 cable even if you do not believe your network will need the added bandwidth. Taking that step now should make things easier in the future.