Despite the triumph of wireless radio connections, patch cables have become indispensable in private home networking, office networking and industrial applications. But not all network cables are the same.
For example, if the inner conductors are not made of copper but an inferior material, this influences the signal quality and the maximum transmission length of the cable. If the network cable is not well shielded, other cables that are routed in parallel can influence the signal quality.
In principle, patch cables can be classified into performance classes depending on their category. But not all of them are suitable for all areas of application.
Requirements, disturbance factors and performance classes
Robustness, performance and reliability are fundamental features of high-quality patch cables. In addition to the suitable cable type and the corresponding cable category, you should also consider the shielding, the cable length, reliability as well as the suitable plugs and contacts before purchasing.
In principle, the cable length is limited to 100 meters but increased damping will shorten the maximum length. The lower the damping, the higher the speed and the transmission quality. In addition, interference factors are largely eliminated by means of cable shielding.
If you choose an unshielded cable (U/UTP), it should not be longer than ten meters – here the transmission quality depends significantly on the length. Thanks to the cables’ plastic coating they are more flexible, but always keep them a safe distance from power cables.
With single-shielded patch cables (S/UTP), copper braids located under the plastic sheath protect against interference. Another alternative for single-shielded cables are FTP cables where the wire pairs are protected. We recommend models with double shielding (S/STP or S/FTP) where copper braiding protects the cores.
A little cable study
Network cables are divided into patch cables, laying cables and crossover cables according to their type: while the patch cable (commonly twisted-pair cables) connects the computer to a hub, switch or router and forms the basis for building a network. Crossover cables, in which two pairs of wires cross, can be used to connect two PCs without an intermediate router or switches.
Thicker cables are used when it comes to building a long-term network infrastructure, where longer distances are needed with relatively little loss in quality.
The performance categories and their fields of application
Once you have decided on the right cable type, you should keep an eye on the performance class, which is reflected in categories (Cat) 1 to 7. Please note that higher category classes automatically cover the performance parameters of all underlying categories of network cables. Specific requirement criteria have been defined for each group.
While Cat 1 to 4 hardly play a role today, the Cat 5, 6 and sometimes 7 cables are much more common.
Cat 1 and Cat 2
The cables of category 1 were originally designed for operating frequencies of maximum 100 MHz and were suitable for voice transmission in telephony. Cat 2 cables for operating frequencies of up to 1.5 MHz were used in house cabling for ISDN primary multiplex connections.
Cat 3 and Cat 4
For cables in categories 3 and 4 we are already talking about frequencies of 16 MHz and 20 MHz, but today these LAN cables can still be found in old installations – today they are replaced by Cat 5, 6 and 7 models.
Cat 5 cables are ideal for structured network cabling of computers and are suitable for Fast or Gigabit Ethernet. It’s hardly surprising that the models in this performance class, which are designed for operating frequencies of 100 MHz, are found in most installations. They enable a transfer rate of up to 1000 Mbps, the maximum transfer rate of the most common network devices in the home, such as Smart TV, NAS or network printers.
Cat 6, Cat 7 and Cat 8
Standard Category 6 cables are designed for frequencies up to 250 MHz, Category 6a models even up to 500 MHz. However, the highest possible transmission speed decreases in proportion to the length of the cable. This is limited to 100 meters. The range of around 50m is increased by using switches in between. In addition, the requirements regarding the suppression of noise and other acoustic disturbances are increasing. They are generally used for all voice and data transmissions as well as for ATM and multimedia networks.
Category 6 and Cat 7 cables transmit data at up to 10 Gbps, ahead of their time. These cables help you stay on the safe side with new installations and the increased data consumption of future devices. Cat 8 cables with 1600 to 2000 MHz are even faster, theoretically reaching a speed of up to 40 Gbps.
Once again, shielding or the necessary distance between other cables is essential to prevent mutual interference. These expensive cable variants are worthwhile when in-house installations are required or if you don’t need to replace cable later. As a rule, use RJ45 connectors for the plug connections, except Cat 7a cables, which require a GG45 connector.
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