Cat 5E

Historically, the basic Cat 5 system used to be the only real choice, but  developments in Ethernet technology led to the introduction of 'Enhanced Category  5' or Cat 5E. Both systems were capable of transmission rates up to 100MHz, but  the test parameters for Cat 5 assumed that data signals would only use two of the  four pairs (one pair for transmitting and one pair for receiving) and crosstalk  measurements were only taken between each pair combination.  With the introduction of Gigabit Ethernet however, all four pairs were used to  transmit simultaneously, and so the cross talk on each pair had to be measured for  the combined effects of the other three pairs.

Cat 6

The standard for Cat 6 was approved for publication by the EIA in 2002 (TIA/EIA-568-B.2-1). Category 6  is capable of transmission frequencies up to 250Mhz and has a positive power sum attenuation to  crosstalk ratio up to 200MHz using improved cables and RJ45 connectors. The problem that  manufacturers have, is that to meet the Cat 6 specification, requires the use of cables and connectors  which are designed to work together as a 'tuned' system. This means that if you install a Cat 6 system  the manufacturer will only guarantee performance if all of the components including the patch leads are  from their Cat 6 product range. In fact, by mixing Cat 6 components from different manufacturers you  could end up with a system with worse performance characteristics than a conventional Cat 5e system.  That said, it is worth noting that Cat 6 systems are backwards compatible with Cat 5/5e cabling and when  mixed with these lower bandwidth systems the performance criteria of the lower specification will still be  met.  Testing Cat 6 cables can be a frustrating process, apart from taking longer because the tester has to  scan frequency steps up to 200MHz instead of 100MHz, the fine line between pass and fail is  accentuated it seems by the slightest kink and twist. The most significant factor when testing a Cat 6  system can be return loss failures due to the test leads themselves. All connectors have a life cycle and  with the average RJ45 connector this is around one or two thousand insertions, so test leads should be  replaced after every 1000 tests or so. OK, not a problem but at around $200 per set this cost will have to  be considered when pricing jobs. Fluke seem to have a solution to this problem with their DSP-LIA101S Permanent Link Adapters. The  connector at the end of the leads are interchangeable and replaceable with connectors from different  manufacturers to ensure compatibility with the system under test. Although a good idea, the adapters are  over $500 and a new pair of "Personality Modules" cost over $100. Surely the test plugs should now be  considered as 'consumables' and the price lowered to reflect this.

Cat 6A

Please see the page on Cat 6A and 7A cabling

Cat 7

This is a 600MHz system (published in 2002) using a shielded cable with individually screened pairs and  a new type of connector. The cable and connectors are slightly bigger than Cat 5e and installation time  can be increased because of the complexity of the termination. There are two main draw backs with  installing this type of cabling, the first is the additional cost involved, and the second is that almost all  networking hardware uses RJ45 jacks. To connect to the cabling system, you have to use Cat 7 to Cat 5e patch leads, and because any system is only as good as its weakest link, your speed is back down to  100MHz. 

Cat 7A

Please see the page on Cat 6A and 7A cabling

Shielded or Unshielded

This is a subject that has been debated and argued over for a long time, and as yet, there are still no  definite answers. Most countries in Europe, and in particular Germany, argue that apart from protecting  data signals against high frequency noise from outside sources, shielded cable also protects humans  against the possibility of having their brains fried due to the effects of high frequency emissions from the  cable itself. Other countries, such as the UK, US and Canada, aren't particularly bothered by this  because nothing has been proved, and after all, millions of people wander around with mobile phones  pressed against the side of their heads with no apparent side effects, er... yet. With the advent of  10GBaseT and 40GBaseT, shielded systems may now be the only realistic choice to minimise Alien  Crosstalk. Shielded cables and components are more expensive and are more time consuming to terminate, you  should also bear in mind that a shielded cable that  isn't properly grounded has worse performance  characteristics than an unshielded cable. If a  shielded cable isn't grounded at all, the screen can  act like an antenna and induce all manner of noise  on to the data signal.

Low Smoke Zero Halogen

In public buildings, such as airports, shops and  hospitals, then the cable should be Low Smoke Zero  Halogen (LS0H or LSZH). 
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