Types of Ethernet Cables
Just like any other technology, not all Ethernet cables are created equal. Instead, there are different classes, each with different levels of power and features, but mostly speed.
When looking for Ethernet cables, you may have noticed that they are marked as Cat-5, Cat-5e, or Cat-6. "Cat" here is the abbreviation of Category, and the numbers represent the specifications it supports. Although there are cable categories from 1 to 4, they are either obsolete or technically not considered part of the Ethernet standard. This means you don't have to worry about anything below Cat-5. Even Cat-5 itself is old and not recommended for any new installations, but you may still find it in circulation or in existing installations.
Category 5 (Cat-5) cables can support data transfer speeds up to 100Mbps and a bandwidth of 100MHz, but they don't have any shielding. Shielding helps protect cables from electromagnetic interference from external sources.
Category 5e (Cat-5e) cable is an improved version of Cat-5. It's not an officially designated category, but Cat-5e cables can support speeds up to 1Gbps, 100MHz bandwidth, and have better crosstalk immunity. Cat-5e is the most common Ethernet cable on the consumer market today.
Category 6 cables are a big step up from Cat-5e. While they're only rated for 1Gbps over longer distances, you can hit 10Gbps over shorter distances of up to 37 meters (121 feet). This is possible because of better shielding and a higher 250MHz bandwidth.
Category-6a is a more advanced version of the Cat-6 specification. It supports twice the bandwidth of Cat-6 and speeds up to 10Gbps at 500MHz for distances up to 100 meters.
Class 7 is an outlier. It was ratified as a standard before Cat-6a, but despite supporting 10Gbps speeds up to 100 meters and a bandwidth of 600MHz, it has yet to gain widespread adoption. Part of the reason Cat-7 is less popular is its proprietary nature. It was developed by a group of companies and is not an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standard. It is also not approved by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). Additionally, Cat-7 cables use proprietary connectors.
Category 7a is an improvement over Cat-7, supporting 40Gbps speeds up to 50 meters and 100Gbps speeds up to 15 meters. Unfortunately, despite being capable, it suffered the same fate as Cat-7 because it had the same problem, a proprietary standard.
Category 8 cable comes after Cat-6a in the TIA and IEEE approved standards. Cat-8 cables support bandwidths up to 2000MHz and are rated at speeds of 25Gbps or 40Gbps for lengths up to 30 meters. This is definitely an improvement, but Cat-8 cables are generally more expensive than lower category cables.
As you consider your options, remember that with the right tools, you can cut your own Ethernet cables so you'll always have the exact length you need.