CAT5e vs. CAT6: Ethernet Cables Explained
Knowing the right cable length may be tricky enough. Knowing which internet cable is best is another problem altogether.
Is the Cat6 Ethernet cable the right choice, or the Cat5e? What are the differences between Cat5, Cat5e, and Cat6?
What does "Cat" mean anyway?
This article will set matters straight about the right ethernet cables and learn the difference between Cat5e vs. Cat6.
Problem: Finding the Right Solution
Suppose that you recently upgraded your internet plan to a blazing Gigabyte/second speed. Everything's running smooth, and your connection speeds are faster than ever.
There is one exception: your hard-wired computer. In contrast, your phone and every other piece of technology can stream movies and download the latest hit songs with ease, your PC lags. Why?
The problem is not your internet service provider; it's the cables themselves.
Not all ethernet cables are designed the same, especially when dealing with Gigabit and up speeds. Faster speeds need the proper cabling to support them, which newer generations provide. Knowing the right fit is crucial for DIY enthusiasts and network installers alike.
What's In a Name? Understanding Ethernet Categories
When searching for a suitable Ethernet cable, you will have to ask what is "Cat" anyways?
Written as "Cat" or "CAT," Ethernet categories tell you which generation the cable belongs to. The only Ethernet categories available on the market now are 5, 5e, 6, 7, and 8.
As a rule, the higher the category, the higher the capability of the cable.
To understand it, we need to see what these improvements are. Each new generation improves upon three factors: Speed, frequency rate, and noise cancellation.
A Cable's Speed
The transmission speed describes the cable's capacity to transfer the internet speed to another piece of equipment.
When you see a cable's speed, written as Mbps (Megabytes per second) or Gbps (Gigabytes per second), know that the label describes its maximum speed. For example, the Cat5 cable has a capacity of 100 Mbps, but the Cat5e ("e" for enhanced) can handle speeds up to 1 Gbps. For reference, 1,000 Mbps is equivalent to 1 Gbps.
So, if you installed a Cat5 cable for a 1 Gbps network, the network becomes restricted to a maximum of 100 Mbps. For more details check CAT5 vs CAT5e
When looking for cables, you should also consider their frequency rate (MHz) or bandwidth. This rate describes how much data can be transferred in a given time. So the higher the number, the higher the bandwidth, and the easier the information can flow.
To understand this better, think of a cable like a highway.
The cable's speed is like the highway's speed limit, frequency is the highway's lane count, and cars are the network signal. The more lanes a road has, the easier traffic can flow. Conversely, if a highway has fewer lanes (and a cable has a low MHz), traffic becomes "bottlenecked" or restricted, no matter how fast it can go.
The higher the MHz and internet speed, the faster the flow of traffic.
The bandwidth of Cat5e is 100 MHz and Cat6 has 250 MHz, so bottlenecking will be an issue for users of higher network speeds using Cat5e.
But what will certainly be an issue is a problem with electromagnetic interference.
Ethernet cables, like other technologies, are not immune to electromagnetic interference (EMI). As all electronic equipment emits radio waves, they can also interfere with your cable.
To minimize decreased network speeds or spotty connections from EMI, cable companies wrap the cable housing or individual wires themselves with foil or a braded copper called the "shield."
Cat5e and CAT6 cables both come in either unshielded twisted pairs (UTP) or foil twisted pairs (FTP) variations
Also, the wires in the cables themselves tend to interfere with each other, and this is called "crosstalk." The effects of crosstalking are only felt with higher frequencies and wire counts.
To solve the crosstalk issue Cat6 comes with a separator. Shaped like a "plus" (+), the spine separates the wires from "talking" to each other and interfering with the signal's performance.
Features and Flaws of Cat5e vs. Cat6 Cables
Now that we know all about the Ethernet's capabilities, we have provided you with a list of the four primary factors you should consider regarding Cat5e and Cat6 cables.
Recall that the speed of a cable is suitable for networks at or below its maximum capacity. Recall also that the higher the frequency, the faster data can transfer between the network and your equipment.
Category 5 cables can only support speeds up to 100 Mbps and have a frequency of 100 MHz, but the enhanced Cat5e cables can support up to 1,000 Mbps or 1 Gbps at 100 MHz. Cat6 cables improve upon Cat5e by providing 10 Gbps speeds at 250 MHz for the first 55 feet, then drop down to 1,000 Mbps at 250 MHz after that.
The successors to the Cat5e cables also have another leg up compared to Cat5e: Their multiconductor gauge. Like in golf, the smaller the gauge number, the larger the wire is and with it comes better performance. The beefier Cat6 cables have a gauge of 23 AWG and Cat5e are 24 AWG.
Each new generation is backward compatible with the previous generation. This means that you can use a Cat6 cable instead of a Cat5 or 5e, and nothing will change. In fact, you can still use this cable if you decide to upgrade your service later on for 10 Gbps.
Coupled with the separator spine Cat6 cables perform better than cat5 for the noise reduction. Shielded outdoor direct burial Cat6 is the best choice for data transmission underground.
Companies with many routers, computers, or other electronic equipment would also enjoy the minimization of EMI noise from shielded or wrapped cables.
Although customers would be turned away from the larger price tag of the Cat6 and opt for the Cat5e, what is really important here is what the customer plans on using these cables for. Recall that Cat5e's are best in residential homes and small businesses, and the cable's affordability suits these customers well.
Internet service providers and installers should heed a different mentality: Future-proof your cable installation. The consumer might opt for a faster network in the future, so anticipating this upgrade now by installing Cat6 cables saves the hassle in the future.
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