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Cable: Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6A ; What's the Difference?

Cat5 Cable

Category 5 also has 4 twisted pairs of copper wire terminated by RJ45 connector. Category 5 cable has a bandwidth of up to 100 MHz and speeds up to Gigabit (1000 Mbps). Category 5 cable can be used for ATM, token ring, Ethernet 1000Base-T, 100Bast-T, and 10Base-T networking. Cat5 is one of five grades of UTP cabling described in the EIA/TIA-586 standard.

Category 5 cable comes in two versions: UTP Cable (Unshielded Twisted Pair) and ScTP Cable (Screened Twisted Pair). Catetory 5 UTP cable is commonly used in the United States, whereas ScTP Catetory 5 cable is mostly common in Europe only.

Cat5e Cable

Category 5e is an enhanced version of Category 5 (Cat5) cable, developed by TIA/EIA to improve certain cable characteristics important to Gigabit Ethernet operation, for example, it adds specifications for far-end cross-talk. It supports 1000Base-T Gigabit Ethernet.

Cat 5e (which stands for Category 5, enhanced) cable goes along the same lines as basic Cat 5, except that it fulfills higher standards of data transmission. While Cat 5 is common in existing cabling systems, Category 5e has almost entirely replaced it in new installations. Cat 5e can handle data transfer at 1000 Mbps, is suitable for Gigabit Ethernet, and experiences much lower levels of near-end crosstalk (NEXT) than Cat 5.

Cat5 and Cat5e cables look the same, but Cat5e cable is manufactured with a higher standard to allow for higher data transfer rates. The most common type cable used in a network is Cat5e. Cat5e cable was formally defined in 2001 in the EIA/TIA-568B standard, which no longer recognizes the original Cat5.

Cat6 Cable

Category 6 cable is also called Cat6 and it has a bandwidth of up to 250MHz. It is the 6th generation of twisted pair Ethernet cabling defined by ANSI/EIA/TIA. It has 4 pairs of copper wire and all 4 pairs are used in Gigabit Ethernet applicationis. Cat6 cable is backward compatible with the Catetory 5, Catetory 5e, and Category 3 cable standards.

Category 6 cabe is constructed with even higher standards than Cat5e. Category 6 cable may have a center divider to separate the pairs inside the cable.

Catetory 6 cable is ideal for supporting 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Since technology and standards are constantly evolving, Cat 6 is the wisest choice of cable when taking any possible future updates to your network into consideration.

If you compare Cat6 with Cat5 and Cat 5e, you can see that Cat6 features more strict specifications for crosstalk and system noise. Cat6 can be used for 10BASE-T Ethernet, 100BASE-TX Fast Ethernet, 1000BASE-T/1000BASE-TX (Gigabit Ethernet) and 10GBASE-T (10-Gigabit Ethernet).

You can have up to 100 meters Cat6 cable in 10Base-T, 100Base-TX, and 1000Bast-T application in the horizontal cabling run. This 100 meters includes up to 90 meters of solid cat6 cable between patch panels and work area outlet, and up to 10 meters of stranded Cat6 patch cables from work area outlet to the computer or server.

For 10GBase-T Ethernet applications, you can have up to 55 meters Cat6 cable in the horizontal run.

Some businesses and homes have installed Cat6 cable so that they are prepared for additional bandwidth requirements int he future. Applicationis such as video, video conferencing, and gaming use a large amount of bandwidth.

Cat6A Cable

Whereas Cat6 cable only supports up to 55 meters maximum length when used for 10GBASE-T Ethernet; Cat6A cable, or Augmented Category 6, is certified to 500 MHz in bandwidth and has improved alien crosstalk characteristics, allowing 10GBASE-T to be run for 100 meters just as the same distance as 10Base-T, 100Base-TX, and 1000Base-T Ethernet.


Colin Yao is the sales manager and an expert on fiber optic technologies and products. He is currently with Fiber Optics For Sale Co. which is one of the largest distributors of Cat5e, Cat6 bulk Cables, Cat5e and Cat6 Patch Cables and more.

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• Understanding Wireless LAN Networking

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