How Well Do You Know Your CATs? Demystifying Ethernet Cable Categories!

Oh, how you wish this article was about Phoebe’s Smelly Cat from F.R.I.E.N.D.S! Well, I wish that too. But unfortunately, today, I’ve taken up the task of acquainting you with different categories of Ethernet cables. And I believe, you will hang in there if you need a profound understanding of different categories that you need to choose from.

We often forget that cables are the most essential element of our electronically driven lives. Be it home or work, all the communication, including the one that takes place between family members is possible due to network cables. Although cables seem to be old-fashioned in our wireless world, they are pretty much present and reliable when it comes to connecting different devices.

If you have worked on computers, you must have seen blue, white and other colorful cables stemming out of your PC and going towards modem. Known as Ethernet Cables, they are quite a lot in use when you want to connect LAN, modem or router to another computer. Due to different sleeve colors, it is difficult to tell CAT5E apart from CAT6, 6E and other cables. Through this article, we will take a look at the traits that make all the cables different from each other and how to identify them. But before we do that, let’s get an understanding of the Standardization of Ethernet Cables and how it happened.


Screenshot_2018-10-05 Ethernet Cables, LAN Cable, Long Network Ethernet Cord SF Cable

The Story of Standardization

In the year 1985, as several businesses developed, the standardization of Ethernet Cables took place. And ever since the standardization took place, several variations came in the versions of it. However, the core technology of these ethernet cables remained the same. Some of the features that kept changing over the years were:

  • Enhanced data transmission speed
  • Better EMI insulation
  • Strong Bandwidth

The experts differentiated the cables based on different categories and abbreviated them as CAT along with the numbers based on features. Standardization put these cables into different categories in the following order:

1. CAT3

2. CAT4

3. CAT5

4. CAT5e

5. CAT6

6. CAT6A

7. CAT7

You must have noticed that CAT1 and CAT2 are not in the list of this standards. Well, Telecommunication Industry Association decided to eliminate CAT1 and CAT2 cables as people didn’t use them for data communication. Hence, you will always find ethernet cables that start from CAT3 and go beyond. As I write this, CAT 8 cables are also in the making. So, we can say that these cables have come quite a long way. Now, without further ado, let’s get into the differences:

CAT3 Cables

These cables are the trailblazer of the computer data communication cabling. People used these cables a lot during early 1990s. This cable can conduct 10Mbps of data transmission and comes with an unshielded twisted pair. When it comes to two-line telephone communications and other functions, people still use these cables.

CAT4 Cables

These cables were like a short-lived affair. They became available during early and mid-1990s but witnessed a quick decline as people started embracing CAT5 Cables. Its speed was faster as compared to CAT3. Viz. 16 Mbps. However, its UTP remained the same. Several commercial buildings made use of these cables. However, as they did not last long, experts rarely list them as a part of their standards.

Screenshot_2018-10-05 Cat5E Ethernet Cables LAN Wire, Cat5E Network Cable Patch Cable SF Cable

CAT5 Cables

To date, CAT5 remains to be one of the most popular categories of Ethernet Cables. It is a UTP Cable and falls into the category of Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps). Also, CAT5 Cables brought in with them the 10/100 Mbps speed. It also provided backward compatibility. These cables lost their importance during the year 2001.

CAT5E Cables

E stands for enhanced version of any cable. The intent behind making CAT5E Cables was to lessen the unwanted transmission of signals and crosstalk. Apart from the reduction in EMI, CAT5 was one of the first cables that had the capability of Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 Mbps). The bandwidth went up with CAT5E cables and started supporting 100 MHz of Bandwidth. Just like CAT5, CAT5E are backward compatible.

Category 6 and 6 A

CAT6 remains the first one to have received the certified Gigabit Ethernet Standard. Although CAT5e has the potential to get the certificate for 250 Mhz bandwidth, CAT6 received this certificate. CAT6 cables have extra insulation/shielding and are backward compatible. The CAT6A Cable, is of course the enhanced version of it. It betters the speed by providing 10,000 Mbps data transmission speed and bandwidth up to 500 MHz This is double as compared to CAT6.

Cat6A Cables

Category 7

And last, but not the least, CAT7 Cables. It is a fully shielded cable and can support the speed of up to 10,000 Mbps and the bandwidth of up to 600 MHz CAT7 cables are the future proof network for several commercial purposes.

We hope this brings much clarity about different cables, their categories and features. The best way to identify them is to check their sleeves and you will find the stamp on them. Ensure that you buy the right one for your purpose!


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