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What’s the Difference Between Cat 5 and Cat 6? It’s Not Just Speed

Basic Differences

  • Bandwidth (Speed)
    Cat5e is rated up to 1 GB/s while Cat 6 is rated up to 10 GB/s (at shorter run lengths)
  • Cost
    Cat 6 generally costs twice the price of Cat 5 per unit
  • Crosstalk
    Due to the design of the Cat5e cable, it is more prone to crosstalk between the pairs of wires which in long runs can slow down performance
  • Future-proofing
    With its higher bandwidth, Cat 6 may support more functionality as network technology improves

Which one is best for you?

Imagine that you’re sitting at work in the middle of a huge project that needed to be done yesterday. Now imagine that in the middle of your uploading the project and
boom, your server goes offline and the entire project you spent the last 4 months on has vanished. While this ideally has never happened to you and never will, this is a very real possibility.

This is the very reason that your Ethernet cables do make a huge difference for your modems, servers and ISPs. Utilizing the right type of Cat5 or Cat6 Ethernet cables
can create much better performance that includes both higher speeds, as well as a reduced amount of ‘crosstalk’. So what is the difference between Cat5 and Cat6?
This article is going to explore what each type of these cables is and which one is better for your individual needs. But first things first:

What is ‘Crosstalk’?

All electronic equipment and the related cables (and even Cat5 and Cat6 cables) are going to emit an electromagnetic signal when being used. Crosstalk occurs when
you have lots of different cables that are all next to each other and can start to interfere with each other. While this may not sound like it will be that big a
problem, it can actually increase the amount of errors and lost packets that occur. That’s why your version of cat cables is so important. When the correct ones are
used, they can help limit the impact of any crosstalk from occurring through various methods, some of which include an improved shielding and even using a unique
twisted cable design.

Cat5 Cables

With Cat5 cables, there are separated into 2 different categories:

  • Cat5 cables
  • Cat5E cables

In recent years, most Cat5 cables have pretty much become obsolete. This is due largely in part to the limitations that Cat5 cables had when compared to the more
advanced Cat5E and Cat6 counterparts. While the Cat5 cables were considered to be very efficient being able to handle upwards of 10/100 Mbps with a 100MHz
bandwidth, when you compare this to the newer Cat cables, it is still significantly slower.

Cat5E cables, also known as Cat5 Enhanced cables, became the industry standard in cables roughly 15 years ago. They offer you speeds up to 10x’s faster than regular
Cat5 cables, as well as an increased ability for traversing distances with a lower rate of crosstalk. To put it bluntly, Cat5E cables simply outperform the obsolete Cat5
cables.

Cat6 Cables

Similar to Cat5 cables, there are also two different types of Cat6 cables as well:

  • Cat6 cables
  • Cat6A cables

While Cat6 cables haven’t been around as long as Cat5E cables, they have become the primary type of cable that is used to backbone networks, as opposed as being
used to run individual workstations. This is due to one reason and one reason only. Cat6 cables are able to handle as much as 10 Gigabits of data at a time when the
bandwidth is limited to 164 feet. Anything outside of that and Cat6 cables will fall to just 1 Gigabit of data, the same as Cat5E cables.

Cat6A cables are the newest version of the Cat6 cable and utilize thick plastic casings that work to help greatly reduce any crosstalk from occurring. The biggest
difference between theCat6 and Cat6A cables is that the Cat6A cables are able to maintain their 10 Gigabit speeds for 328 feet, doubling that of the Cat6 Ethernet
cable.

If you are looking for a cable that will last longer and be ‘future proof’, then the Cat6A is the one that you are going to want to use. The exception being that this
type of cable is usually overkill when it comes to most commercial and residential properties. For these type of applications, either the Cat5E or the Cat6 cables will be
more than enough to be sufficient.

Benefits of Ethernet In The Home

While you may love Wi-Fi for how convenient it is, it does have several downsides as well. If you have ever used Wi-Fi you have probably experienced having to watch
the website you wanted to visit load little by little, bit by bit for what more than likely seemed like forever. If that wasn’t enough, you have probably lost your
connection altogether as well in the middle of your favorite Netflix movie. To sum up Wi-Fi, it is unreliable.

While Wi-Fi is very convenient, what you may not realize is that with an Ethernet cable, you can have a much more reliable and much faster connection, just by
plugging it in.

Some of the benefits of using a Cat5E or Cat6 Ethernet cable include:

  1. Speed – An Ethernet connection can be up to 10 GB/s with a Cat6 cable. The maximum speed for any Wi-Fi is only 866.7 Mb/s.
  2. Latency – Latency is the delay in the signals traveling back and forth from your router to your computer or other wireless device. Latency is generally
    much lower with an Ethernet cable when compared to Wi-Fi.
  3. Interference – With an Ethernet cable, you have a very secure and reliable connection. More than likely, not many issues will arrive. On the other hand,
    Wi-Fi is extremely susceptible to different types of interference. This interference then leads to your Wi-Fi signal being lost.
  4. Security – Since Wi-Fi is not very secure, there is more chance of being hacked. With an Ethernet wired network, the only way to get in is to having
    another device physically plugged into the router.
  5. Energy Efficient – With a Cat6 Ethernet cable, you will be using less energy than if you were using a Wi-Fi connection. Less energy consumed means that
    you will be lowering your energy bill and reducing your carbon footprint.

With Ethernet cables being much fast, more secure and even more energy efficient, they can be used more reliably for things like:

  • Security Cameras
  • Intercom Devices
  • IP Phones
  • Extended Wi-Fi Ranges

Which Cable Do You Need – Cat5E or Cat6?

Now that you know what Cat5 and Cat6 Ethernet cables are, which one is the best one for you and your individual needs? While the obvious answer would be to go
with the Cat6 cable, this may not be the best choice for you. While there is never a ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to networking, there is a right fit for what
it is you are trying to specifically accomplish.

If you are going to be a residential user, then the Cat5E will be able to handle just about any type of needs that you may have. This works out great for you as the
Cat5E cables will be able to accommodate any type of speed that your residential connection will be able to provide for at least the next few years. And for whatever
reason you do decide to upgrade later down the road, it will not be too expensive or difficult for you to do so.

If on the other hand you just happen to be a commercial user that is in demand for both a faster Internet, as well as faster internal speeds, then your needs are going to be completely different. If you are going to be doing a lot of audio and video editing or processing on network computers, or if you rely heavily on the ability to be able to transfer files from one computer to another very quickly, then Cat6 cables that
have a high Gigabit networking are going to be much better for you. By using the Cat6 cables in this situation, you will not only be future proofing yourself, but you will also be able to more efficiently satisfy your current needs.

What About Cat 7?

Category 7 cable, also known as Cat 7, is used when performance up to 600 MHz is required. An example of why you would require a Cat 7 Ethernet cable is to wire
your smart home. While Cat 7 cables are able to handle an extreme amount of workload and still be very quick and efficient, most commercial and residential
users will not require an Ethernet cable with this kind of capabilities.

While your internet needs are going to be different from others, if you are looking for a connection that is secure, faster, more reliable and will be able to handle any
increases in internet speed over the next few years, than using a Cat 5E or Cat6 Ethernet cable is what you need to do. With so many more pros than any Wi-Fi
network, you will be doing yourself a huge favor.

As for whether a Cat5E, Cat6 or Cat6A is the right cable for you will depend upon what you are using your network for. But you can rest assured with one thing, when
you use a Cat5 or Cat6 Ethernet cable, you will have a much better experience.

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