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What is a Cat8 Ethernet Cable and How is it Different?

What is a Cat8 Ethernet Cable?

We were told that Ethernet was going to be a thing of the past. Google tried to make fiber optics the new standard for home internet connections, and it was an obvious choice for scaling industrial applications. Somehow, Ethernet has hung in there, and new iterations arise every few years that continue to push the envelope of traditional copper wires. Today, we’re going to cover the latest iteration: Cat8. We’re going to start with the basics, but in a few short minutes, you’ll have a clear picture of what Cat8 is, how it works and why you need to be thinking about it.

Differences Between Ethernet Categories

You’ve seen the "cat" or category designations, Cat5e and Cat6 and Cat6a, plenty. If you work in more powerful internet settings you might even be familiar with Cat7. The general rule is that a higher number is a newer technology and can support higher data rates, but that's just one of the main differences:

  • Standard bandwidth (measured in MHz)
  • Maximum data rate (measured in megabits per second)
  • Shielding

Basic Specs for Cat8 Ethernet

Category CAT8 Connectors RJ45 / RJ45
Booted Yes, Ferrai-Style, Snagless Shielded Pair Foil shielded / 4 Pair Braid Shield
AWG 24 AWG Bandwidth up to 2GHz
Jacket PVC (CM) Conductor Stranded
Conductor Material Pure Copper Contact Gold Plating 50 Micron
Backwards Compatible Yes Max Data Rate 40 Gbps

Then again, that’s the obvious stuff. To be more specific, Cat5 operates at 100 MHz and can transfer data at speeds up to 1000 Mbps. Cat6 works at 250 MHz and can get up to 1 Gbps. Cat7 ups the ante substantially with 600 MHz and 10 Gbps rates. This is a simplification. There are variations on each cable and some arrangements can boost or inhibit performance, but these are the numbers for which each category is tested and vetted.

The reason Cat8 is turning heads is because it is jumping several iterations in performance. It uses 2 Ghz signals to move data from 25 Gbps (Cat8.1) to 40 Gbps (Cat8.2). It’s a serious upgrade, and the implications are turning heads across IT fields.

Ethernet Speed Comparison

Category Standard Bandwidth Max Data Rate Shielding
Cat5e 100MHz (up to 350) 1000Mbps UTP or STP
Cat6 250MHz (up to 550) 1000Mbps UTP or STP
Cat6A 500MHz (up to 550) 10Gbps UTP or STP
Cat7 600MHz 10Gbps Shielded only
Cat8 2000MHz 25Gbps or 40Gbps Shielded only

Why Does Cat8 Ethernet Cost More?

In most things, higher performance costs more money. Sometimes that’s a purely economic issue (supply and demand or something like that), but in other cases it has to do with the cost of production. That certainly applies to Ethernet cables. Cat5 isn’t cheaper because it is slower. It is slower because it is cheaper. We’ll get into it more in a minute, but higher frequencies allow for higher data transmission rates, but making them is more expensive. (Keep reading after examples below.)

10ft Blue CAT8 Ethernet Cable, S/FTP, 40Gbs, 2GHz, Easyboot

10ft Blue CAT8 Ethernet Cable, S/FTP, 40Gbs, 2GHz, Easyboot

7ft Black CAT8 Ethernet Cable, S/FTP, 40Gbs, 2GHz, Easyboot

7ft Black CAT8 Ethernet Cable, S/FTP, 40Gbs, 2GHz, Easyboot

1ft Blue CAT8 Ethernet Cable, S/FTP, 40Gbs, 2GHz, Easyboot

1ft Blue CAT8 Ethernet Cable, S/FTP, 40Gbs, 2GHz, Easyboot

5ft Purple CAT8 Ethernet Cable, S/FTP, 40Gbs, 2GHz, Easyboot

5ft Purple CAT8 Ethernet Cable, S/FTP, 40Gbs, 2GHz, Easyboot

Mostly, it boils down to twists and shielding. Higher frequencies require more twists in the cable pairs, and that process is more expensive. Also, it becomes increasingly difficult to shield higher frequencies from interference and crosstalk, and as you go up in scale, the cost of raw materials for shielding get pricey. Cat7, for example, often uses gold plates for shielding. Since interference can render a cable useless, this is a big deal. With Cat8, one of the popular and most trusted types of shielding is S/FTP. This is usually established by having each pair shielded with a foil wrapping and then a 4-pair braid shield around the group of wires. This gives the maximum level of protection from interference and is found in the highest performance copper cables.

Standard Bandwidth Explained

Since standard bandwidth is such a driving force in cable design, let’s talk about how frequency really works. Essentially, the frequency of a cable determines how many 1s and 0s can be sent across the wires in a second. For basic Cat5 cables, that’s 100 million signals a second (or 100 Mhz). Cat8 uses an unprecedented 2 billion (2 GHz) signals per second. This means the cable density and quality of shielding necessary to make it work are on a whole different scale. That’s obvious when you consider that Cat8 is rated for data transfers 250 to 400 times faster than Cat5.

Cat8 Ethernet is still not widely available (we do have it available!), but the demand is already strong. Data centers are itching for a scalable copper cable that can compete with fiber optics. With the rise of data transmission due to the exponential increase in the volume of data stored, the rapid centralization of data to the cloud, and the ever increasing bandwidth available through broadband and 5G network hardware manufacturers, IT managers, and Data center engineers are constantly looking for quick, easy, and cheaper ways of moving more data. Outside of fiber, CAT8 is the new "go-to" cabling solution. Basically, any operation that needs to scale fiber optics might be looking to substitute Cat8 instead over the next few years.

In a few years, even higher speeds for applications will be needed to keep up with the accessibility and business growth that many companies are experiencing now. Beyond Cat8, Cat9 and Cat10 will be on the horizon. They are not here yet, but you can bet that the increase for even more speed and bandwidth will drive the need for higher levels of connectivity through ethernet.

To order or if you have any questions, please contact one of our Ethernet Cabling Experts today.

Not ready to make the move into CAT8 Ethernet? We still got you covered:

Additional Learning Center Resources