Ethernet cables come in all shapes, lengths, and sizes, but the biggest differentiating factor between them is their category. This term is used to denote the generation of Ethernet cable, which in turn tells you a lot about its performance potential and the level of shielding it has to prevent crosstalk and exterior noise. Where cables like Cat 5, Cat 5e, Cat 6, and even Cat 8 are quite typical, however, Cat7 is a little different.
Those other categories of cable were part of the standard development of Ethernet cables. They improved incrementally generation upon generation and were released in a fairly uniform manner over the years, but Cat 7 was an attempt to leapfrog ahead of that, delivering much greater performance potential years ahead of comparable Ethernet cable designs.
Alongside its unique launch timeframe, Cat7 has some unique eccentricities where other categories of cable adhere to strict specifications for all parts of their design. Partly because of that, but also because more standard Ethernet cables are now readily available and can compete directly with Cat7, it's not hugely popular, despite its impressive specifications (especially considering when it was released). But the magic of that higher number means that comparable cables of lower categories are occasionally mis-sold as Cat7 cables instead. In fact, if you come across a Cat7 cable from some other retailer, you’re almost certainly buying a Cat 6A cable.
Not on Cable Matters. All cables in that store are accurately labeled to help you make an informed choice. But knowing what is Cat7 can save you some headaches when it comes to upgrading your Ethernet cables.
So, what is Cat7? It's an Ethernet cable for sure, but you probably don’t need to worry about it. In fact, we’re almost certain you’d be better off with a Cat6A, or Cat 8 Ethernet cable instead.
By the numbers
A quick look at Cat7's capabilities might make you wonder what all the fuss is about, because on paper at least, it has everything you might want in an Ethernet cable. Originally ratified as a standard in 2002, Cat7 was the first Ethernet cable type to offer speeds up to 10 Gbps over up to 100 meters of copper cabling. In ideal circumstances, Cat7 Ethernet cables can operate up to frequencies as high as 600 MHz. That's noticeably higher than Cat6 cables, although falls very close to the capabilities of Cat6A, which debuted two years later.
Although designed with that 10 Gbps bandwidth in mind, Cat 7 actually proved even more capable in real-world use, with some high-quality Cat 7 Ethernet cables able to transmit up to 40 Gbps over 50 meters, and 100 Gbps over 15 meters. The cables aren’t rated for that kind of speed, but it shows what a capable solution it was when first launched, making it all the more impactful that Cat 7 was not adopted more widely.
Cat7 cables do have stricter standards for crosstalk than Cat6, roughly comparable with Cat6A. It typically achieves this with a tighter twisting of the internal wires, though you can also get Cat 7 cables which have shielding of the twisted pairs, and an overall braid or foil wrap for the cable as a whole, doubling the layers of shielding over older categories of Ethernet cabling.
What is Cat7? Similar but not the same
Where Cat7 cables sound great on paper -- especially considering when they were originally released – there are some reasons why the standard is not as useful or as viable as comparable cables like Cat6A.
One of the most important reasons is that the Cat7 specification is a proprietary standard developed by a group of companies. It is not an IEEE standard and is not approved by TIA/EIA. Cat7 cables don't use the traditional RJ-45 Ethernet header (technically known as an 8P8C connector). The GG45 connector that is used instead, is a proprietary connector. It is, however, backward compatible with RJ-45 and could be used interchangeably for the most part, but due to the limited adoption of Cat7 Ethernet cables, the GG45 Connector is hard to come by. Cat7 cables are also compatible with the TERA connector, although that has also seen very little use in the industry. (see below)
Image Credit: Wikipedia
This lack of conformity with prior cable standards has led to Cat7 being an exceedingly unpopular cable category and ultimately drove the development of Cat6A cables shortly after its initial release. While that standard proved more popular, it also added to the confusion. Marketing comparable Cat6A cables is difficult when Cat7 sounds better and newer, by virtue of having a higher number category. This has resulted in some sellers using Cat7 as a way to sell their Cat6A cables. So be sure to check the specifications of any Cat7 cables you are interested in buying, before typing in your card details.
Or indeed, just consider buying Cat6A cables, since you may end up with those anyway.
No nod for Cat7
While connector preference drove some people and companies away from Cat7 though, arguably the most important factor in its low popularity is that it lacks the official stamp of approval from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA). That doesn't preclude anyone from using Cat7 cables, but it does mean many are less inclined to do so.
This lack of approval and the use of the alternative connector means that networking hardware developers have focused their support for 10Gb Ethernet for the RJ-45 connector, leaving the GG45 and TERA connection options underdeveloped. That merely compounds the problems Cat7 faces in increasing its adoption.
Instead, over the years Cat 6, then Cat 6A, and more recently, Cat8 Ethernet cables have become more common as networks are built and upgraded, and Cat 7 has largely been sidelined.
What about Cat7A?
Like Cat6 and Cat6A, Cat7A is a further development of the Cat7 standard. Designed to support future 40 Gigabit Ethernet connection standards with frequencies up to 1,000MHz, Cat7A is incredibly capable. It can support 40 Gigabit connections up to 50 meters and 100 Gigabit up to 15 meters in the right circumstances.
Unfortunately, this strays further from the plans of the IEEE, which ratified in 2016 (six years after Cat7A was ratified) that Ethernet cables officially supporting 40 Gbps speeds would require support for up to 2,000MHz, meaning Cat8 cables are the only ones to officially support such speeds.
This has resulted in little to no developmental work on Cat7A-compatible products, making it mostly useless, despite its impressive capabilities.
Cat 7 vs. Cat 8
Like some of the Cat 7 Ethernet cable’s earlier battles with Cat 6 and Cat 6A, it ultimately doesn’t stand much of a chance against Cat 8 cables. Although Cat 7 and Cat 7A are impressive cables and connectors, the standardization of Cat 8 is too much for it to compete with. Cat 8 is a true evolution of Cat 6A and the perfect upgrade path for anyone looking to expand their network’s capabilities.
Beyond simply being more standardized, though, Cat 8 is simply a better cable. It is rated to support frequencies up to 2,000 MHz over up to 30 meters, giving it the official support for up to 40 Gbps over that shorter cable run. Though Cat 7 cables have been shown to be capable of delivering such bandwidths, they only support frequencies up to 600MHz, so lack that official support for such high bandwidths.
In terms of shielding both cables are roughly equal as standards. They both require shielded twisted pairs and an overall shielding over the cable itself, but Cat 8 comes in a wider range of shielded options. Some have splines, others add additional foil or braided shielding for the overall wire, and some have both.
As for cost, Cat 8 Ethernet cables are typically a little more expensive, but considering you get the ratified and official standard and supported features, as well as more impressive rated performance, there really is no competition: Cat8 cables are better.
You probably don't need Cat7. Use Cat6A or Cat8 instead
Cat7 cables are not a common standard, nor one you need to concern yourself with. If you need the kind of performance Cat7 offers, Cat6A is perfectly up to the task. It's a widely supported cable standard and has all of the benefits of Cat7 without the drawbacks.
If you are running a data center or really interested in future-proofing your network and want more than Cat6A has to offer, then you’d be better off choosing a Cat8 cable. Cat8 has the blessing of the industry and is approved by the IEEE and EIA and even comes with the familiar RJ45 connectors. Though length limitations do apply, Cat8 is rated for 25 & 40G speeds and provides an excellent alternative to more expensive fiber connections.
Cable Matters carries a large selection of Cat6A and Cat8 cables in different lengths and colors.
What is Cat7? It's effectively a dead standard and one that few should concern themselves with. It’s not going to make a comeback, and against the likes of Cat6A and Cat8 cables, it doesn’t stand a chance considering their widespread and ever-increasing adoption.
However, if you are one of the few who want or need a Cat7 Ethernet cable or three, then you need to be sure that what you're buying is Cat7. Don't be caught out by Cat6A masquerading as the older standard. Be sure you buy from a reputable cable trader like Cable Matters and if in doubt, get in touch with support to find out exactly what type of Ethernet cable you’re buying.
Do You Need Cat7 in 2023?
In 2022 many of the country’s largest internet service providers unveiled multi-gigabit internet plans across the nation, and that looks set to continue in 2023. AT&T, Verizon, Google Fiber, Xfinity, and other smaller regional ISPs as well, have all launched multi-gig services, making 1 Gbps+ download speeds a reality. If you've just upgraded, or are planning to upgrade your work or home network to a multi-gig network, you're probably wondering if you need to upgrade your cables.
If you’re already running Cat 6 or Cat 6A, it’s not necessary. What you have is more than fast enough and the standard shielding of both cable standards is perfect for home use. If you’re running older Cat 5 cables, however, you may want to upgrade to benefit from the improved performance and shielding of newer Ethernet cables.
That said, whether you’re building a new network or upgrading an older one, leave Cat7 well enough alone. It’s a dead standard that isn’t going to see any further adoption and its benefits are easily matched and outweighed by competitor cables, like Cat 6A, or the latest and greatest, Cat8.
In the vast majority of cases, if your network is less than 10Gbps then Cat6A cable is going to be all you need. Let's say you live in Chattanooga, Tennessee though and you've just upgraded to the fastest residential internet service in the country at 25Gbps.
Should you upgrade to Cat7? No! Upgrade to Cat8 instead. It’s incredibly fast, has the most robust shielding of any category of Ethernet cable, and it will continue to be supported long into the future. Cat 7 will not.