CAT cables are a short form for Category cables. CAT cables were initially created by the Electronic Industry Alliance (EIA) and are now maintained by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). The term category refers to the different levels of performance in each cable. Meaning the larger the number of the cable the higher performance and more expensive the cable will be. The three most common cables nowadays are CAT 5, CAT 5e, and CAT 6. Obviously, there are more cables out there but most residential and commercial buildings use one of these three and rarely is it CAT 6 unless it’s a building that was recently wired or if it was explicitly upgraded. Other than the three mentioned above there are two others which most people overlook which are CAT 6a and CAT 7. As mentioned above the higher the quality you go the more expensive the cables become.
As stated above, there are currently seven levels of CAT cables which the first 5 are not really used anymore. The main reason for that is because our internet speeds have become too strong to be able to transfer on the CAT 5 or previous generations. For example, CAT 5 cables can transfer up to 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps over 100 meters and then gradually dropping speed. In that same respect, the faster cable which is the CAT 5e is able to theoretically support one-gigabyte speeds over 50 -100 meters then dropping speeds. Just like the other two the CAT 6 is able to support anywhere from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps over 55 – 100 meters then dropping speeds. The CAT 6a is just a bit higher than the CAT 6 the biggest difference between the two, other than the cost, is CAT 6 has a 250 MHz frequency while the CAT 6a has a 750 MHz frequency. CAT 7 is a 10 Gbps base cabling and can go up but this type of cabling is mainly used for data centers and technically would defeat the purpose of wiring it in a commercial or residential building unless that much data is being run between units over a network.
This entirely depends on what you are trying to accomplish and how much the budget is just for the cables. To explain, if your goal is to wire this building and not upgrade it for approximately five years or so it might be a better idea to use a CAT 6 or CAT 6a cable as we highly doubt our internet speeds will go past that in the next five years or even in the next decade. However, if you are looking at keeping this wiring for several decades and you have the funds to spend then most definitely go with CAT 7. This way you would be future proof at least for a while. A rough price comparison a CAT 7/7a cable could cost around $2,000 for about 2,000 ft of cable not including running the wires. While a CAT 6/6a would cost about $500 for 2,000 ft of cable not including running wires. So, at the end of the day is a $1,500 price difference an affordable and intelligent investment? That is a decision everyone must make on their own based on their own scenario. However, keep in mind just because you have CAT 7 or CAT 6(a) wiring that doesn’t mean you will get the high speeds. You have to take a lot of factors into consideration such as how many devices are using the same network, how much data/bandwidth each device is using, what is the overall internet speed provided by the Internet Service Provider (ISP), how your switch/router handles trafficking, and if your router can transfer at such a high rate per port.