When it comes to network cabling, there are always a variety of choices. And there is no doubt that people prefer the cable with high performance and low price. In this article, we will discuss three different copper cable options—Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6. After reading, you will be much more acquainted with these cable specifications and have a better idea of what you would like to use in your network.
Overview of Cat5, Cat5e, and Cat6
First, let’s come to the overview of Cat5, Cat5e and Cat6 cables. Cat5, or Category 5, is an Ethernet network cable standard defined by the Electronic Industries Association and Telecommunications Industry Association (commonly known as EIA/TIA). Cat5 cable uses the fifth generation of twisted pair Ethernet technology and contains four pairs of copper wire supporting Fast Ethernet. Cat5e, or Cat5 enhanced, is designed to better support Gigabit Ethernet by utilizing all four wire pairs. And Cat5e cable additionally preserves backward compatibility with Fast Ethernet equipment. As the sixth generation of twisted pair Ethernet cable, Cat6 contains four pairs of copper wire and utilizes all of these pairs for signaling in order to obtain the higher level of performance—supporting 10G Ethernet. Here is a figure of the inner structure of Cat5, Cat5e and Cat6.
Differences Between Cat5, Cat5e, and Cat6
This part will discuss the differences between Cat5, Cat5e and Cat6 from four aspects: speed, length, cost and application.
Data speed is important for cable selections. You have to choose the cable that is equivalent to what is running on it. As for Cat5 cable, it can handle 10/100 Mbps speed (Fast Ethernet) with bandwidth up to 100 MHz; for Cat5e cable, it can support 1 Gigabit Ethernet with bandwidth up to 100MHz; while Cat6 can support higher data rate of 10 Gigabit Ethernet with bandwidth up to 250 MHz.
The common ground for Cat5, Cat5e and Cat6 cable is that they are all designed for short distance data transmission, because they are made of copper wires. Their cable runs are limited to a maximum recommended length of 100 meters (328 feet) for their nominal connection speeds—Fast Ethernet speed for Cat5, 1 Gigabit Ethernet speed for Cat5e and Cat6. At present, Cat5e cable 305m and Cat6 cable 305m are available on the market, and both of them can support 1000Mbps maximum data rate with 100MHz bandwidth.
Compared with Cat5e cables, the cost of Cat6 cables is typically 10 to 20% more expensive because of higher transmission speed. However, the cost of these cables are comparatively low, which only takes up a very small portion of the total budget once you consider all the other equipment (racks, servers, switches, routers, etc). For the consideration of your application, Cat6 might be a better choice if higher data rate is required. The additional cost can save you more money in the long run.
Cat5 is often connected to patch panels, switches, routers, desktops, IP phones and many other networks and network devices that utilize the internet. And traditionally, Cat 5e cable is run for the business telephones. Cat 6 is suited for broadband video and digital video applications because of the lower signal losses and better transmission performance at higher frequency.
Be sure to make clear of these three types of Ethernet cables and select the suitable one for your home or business project. I hope the information in this article could be helpful or a guide for you when you are confused about which Ethernet cable to choose.