Ethernet cables are the standard cables used to connect a computer network system. More specifically the different Ethernet cable types connect a modem to a router/ LAN, a router to a computer’s network interface card, etc.
These cables are thick and flexible. We usually see their ends connected to the back of our computer equipment. While the different cables may look similar, there are, in fact, different categories of cables.


Ethernet Cables Categories

Since the Ethernet was introduced in 1980, Ethernet cables have been developing and adapting to the uses and their needs. The different categories are designed with different specifications. They differ in shielding from electromagnetic interference, data transmission speed, and bandwidth frequency range. Physical differences include gauge size (AWG), jacket, and internal cable structure.
These differences affect the cable’s quality and speed.


Category 3 Cable

Also known as Cat3 or Station Wire, category 3 Ethernet cable is one of the veterans of Ethernet cables still in use today. Cat3 is of unshielded twisted pair (UTP) construction. It carries 10 Mbps data/voice transmission, with a max bandwidth of 16MHz.

Cat3 cable was the standard used for computer networks in the 1990s. Now days it is used in two-line telephone systems and older 10BASE-T Ethernet installations.

Category 5 Cable

Like its predecessor (Cat3), Cat5 is a UTP cable. This improved version carries data at higher transfer rates. The category 5 cable introduced the 10/100 Mbps speed to the Ethernet with a 100MHz bandwidth. It is the first Fast Ethernet-capable cable. Cat5 is used for Ethernet data, video, and telephone signals.

Category 5E Cable

The added ‘e’ stands for enhanced, since the Cat5e is an enhanced version of the cat5 cable. It is optimized to reduce crosstalk, the unwanted transmission of signals between data channels. The difference between the Cat5 versions is that Cat5e cable enables speeds up to 10/100 Mbps with a 100MHz bandwidth and utilizes all four twisted pairs of wires (unlike Cat5 which utilizes only two of the pairs). Cat5e is the most widely used in the industry thanks to these improvements. Cat5e cables are backward compatible with Cat5 cables and are used in any homes and small businesses network installations.

Category 6 Cable

Cat6 cable enables better transmission performance than Cat5e. It was designed to handle up to 10 Gbps (gigabits/sec) with a 250MHz bandwidth. Additionally, it features improved insulation and thinner wires, which allows for a higher signal-to-noise ratio. They can also handle electromagnetic interference better than Cat5e cables.
Cat6 cables are available in UTP or STP (shielded twisted pair) configurations. Like Cat5e cables, they are backward compatible with Cat5 and Cat5e cables. Cat6 is suitable for building and commercial applications.

Category 6A Cable

The ‘a’ is for augmented. The improved Cat6a features 10,000 Mbps data transmission rates with a 500MHz bandwidth. This cable is available in STP and requires specialized grounding connectors.

Category 7 Cable

The Cat7 cable is also referred to as Class F. It is fully shielded and allows for speeds up to 10 Gbps and a 600MHz bandwidth. This cable is designed with screened shielded twisted pair (SSTP) wires. Due to the added shielding, Cat7 is a thicker cable that is harder to bend. Each shielding layer must be grounded to assure performance is not affected negatively. Specialized connectors are needed.