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.
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)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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:
The Future of Ethernet in Data Centers
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?