What happened to Cat7 Ethernet?
Ethernet has been a staple in networking for decades. When copper cables can provide enough throughput, they tend to be much cheaper and easier to use than other connection types. Ethernet is the king of simplicity, and that’s a major part of why it is so popular.
Over the many years of Ethernet’s use, it has seen incremental improvements and upgrades. As internet access expanded in the 90s and 2000s, many home networks started off with Cat5 cabling. For faster networks, Cat6 was frequently chosen. Today, you will see that even in data centers Cat8 is a good choice. But, you won’t often see Cat7 cables anywhere. Why is that?
What Is Cat7?
Cat7 is a high-speed copper networking cable. It was originally ratified in 2002. The design aimed to reduce crosstalk and provide 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections at distances up to 100 meters. Considering this was in place in 2002, that’s rather incredible.
Interestingly enough, Cat6 was ratified the same year, offering 1 Gigabit speeds at similar ranges. Looking back at networking in 2002, it’s easy to see why Cat6 was more popular in the beginning. Very few networks needed 10G speeds.
Improvements With Cat7A
In 2010, Cat7 got a boost with the upgraded designs of Cat7A. This increased data rates up to 40G and increased the maximum signal frequency to 1000 Mhz. As such, the cable started seeing use in a lot of AV setups where the higher frequency proved quite valuable.
Despite that niche, Cat7A never saw widespread adoption, and it was never formalized and ratified by TIA.
Why Isn’t Cat7 Widely Used?
The short summary is that Cat7, and later Cat7A, was just ahead of its time. The cable provided more networking power than was really needed, and it was prohibitively expensive. Because there wasn’t demand for such high speeds at such short distances, Cat7 never saw widespread adoption, and that led to a lack of development. Networking engineers didn’t figure out or optimize use cases for Cat7 because other cables could meet current needs for less money.
Additionally, three other factors unintentionally worked together to hold Cat7 back.
Lack of Ratification
One of the biggest issues for Cat7 is that it was never standardized by TIA. This lack of ratification led to a lot of networking designers and technicians shying away from Cat7 cables. Without such an important stamp of approval, people in the industry weren’t ready to take a chance on Cat7.
Combine that with the fact that it overperformed and raised budgets, it was easy to use other cables.
Another major concern with Cat7 is that it doesn’t use RJ-45 connectors. This has been the go-to for Ethernet cables from the start, and steering away from such a universal connection rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
Interestingly enough, Cat7 uses the GG45 connector more often than not, and this connector is backward compatible with RJ45. Despite that, networking pros never really adopted it. Instead, they stuck with Cat6 and its variants that use RJ45. Eventually, Cat6A was able to offer performance comparable to Cat7 while still using RJ45 connectors.
Then Cat8 Showed Up
This was the final nail in the coffin. By the time Cat7 speeds came into demand, Cat8 had been developed. Cat8 offers comparable data rates, but it can hit maximum frequencies of 2,000 Mhz. This is in line with modern IEEE standards, and that makes Cat8 more appealing for use cases that might otherwise look into Cat7 connectors.
Basically, Cat7 came out at the wrong time. So, networks skipped from Cat6 to Cat6A and then to Cat8. That’s what happened to Cat7.
Despite all of this, Cat7 is still used in some cases. It remains popular for niche AV applications across Europe, and when network demands are specific enough, it proves to be the right cable. More often than not, though, Cat6A or Cat8 is a better choice for a copper network. They achieve the right speeds more efficiently and with better overall compatibility.
Additional Learning Center Resources
- The Future of Ethernet in Data Centers
- What is Cat8 and how is it different from other Ethernet cables?
- What is the difference between Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6a?
- Cat8 Ethernet vs. 40G Fiber Optic Cabling
- Why Would You Use Shielded Ethernet Cables?
- What is CAT6A and How is it Used?
- What are Ferrari-style Ethernet Cables?