Category 5 enhanced (CAT5e) ethernet cabling is an extremely popular solution for local area networks (LANs). It’s a thoroughly proven technology, it’s robust, and it’s cost-effective. While it has been around since 2001, it remains the best choice for many. We still install miles of CAT5e in office and SOHO environments every year. For some customers however, CAT7 and CAT7a offer considerable benefits.
But which is right for you?
Fast and Versatile
In terms of speed, CAT7 is rated for 600 MHz, and CAT7a for 1000 MHz (10 Gigabit). It can maintain that data rate over a distance of up to 100 metres. That represents a potential 10x speed gain over CAT5e (100 Mhz). In lab tests, CAT7 has been shown to support even faster data rates over short distances. While that may not have direct impact on your installation, it does underline the additional performance available, and its suitability for high-demand networks.
You also get better signal stability. CAT5e is designated UTP: Unshielded Twisted Pair. It’s composed of four pairs of twisted copper wire. In many situations, that’s perfectly acceptable – but interference can cause problems. CAT7 is designated S/FTP: Shielded, Foiled Twisted Pair. Not only is each twisted pair individually foiled, the four sets are then wrapped in an additional braided shield. The result is dramatically reduced signal attenuation, and increased protection from the crosstalk (electromagnetic interference) – the kind of signal noise generated by fluorescent lights, air conditioning, and other infrastructure equipment.
Additionally, CAT7 can be employed for pair sharing. So one cable might be used for two or more different devices.
Will It Cost More?
CAT7 and CAT7a ethernet cabling has a more complex physical construction than CAT5, so manufacturing costs are higher. In addition, the CAT7 shielding needs to be grounded, and GigaGate45 (CG45) or TERA connectors are used. The cabling itself is notably stiffer than CAT5, though this normally has little impact on the installation process.
In real terms, there’s not the big jump in costs that many people fear. You should also bear in mind that the increased network capacity gives a considerable amount of future-proofing.
The Right Specification For You
There are times when CAT5e is still a good choice: in small offices, when dealing with networks that are subject to frequent change, or if an office move is anticipated.
CAT7 and CAT7a are the optimal solution in high bandwidth installations, or where there are expectations of increased demand. They are also the de-facto standard for ‘Smart Home’ design.
The problem with these generalizations is that every ethernet installation is different. The best solution is to give us a quick call. We can arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our specialist engineers. They will discuss the features and benefits of CAT5e and CAT7 or CAT7a, and help you configure the most cost-effective ethernet cabling solution for your business.