Since CAT/Ethernet cables came on the scene, there have been many types developed for various purposes. They range from the oldest one i.e. the Category 3 Ethernet cable, also known as a station wire, to the Category 7 which has both the highest speed transmission and maximum bandwidth of all the cables.
However, when you are thinking of getting cabling done at home or office, your choices will be narrowed down to three types:
- CAT 5
- CAT 5e
- CAT 6
Key Distinguishing Factors
There are three main factors that distinguish these three cables and that will help you determine which will be most suited to your needs. They are network support, crosstalk and bandwidth.
This refers to the maximum data transmission speed within a network that the cable can support. CAT 5 cable can support network running at 10Mbps or 100Mbps. CAT 5e cable (which is an enhanced version of CAT 5) can support networks running at 1000Mbps, as can the CAT 6 cable.
Crosstalk refers to unwanted transfer of signals between communication channels. It is where signals bleed between cables due to induction. Crosstalk often results in the network transmission speeds slowing down or even being completely blocked.
CAT 5 cables experience quite some crosstalk which is primarily the reason CAT 5e cables were developed. CAT 5e cables are an optimized version on CAT 5 cables to reduce crosstalk.
However, CAT 6 cables have better insulation and thinner wires than CAT 5e that greatly reduce noise during transmission, and are better suited for areas that have higher electromagnetic interferences, thereby nearly eliminating crosstalk.
This is simply the carrying capacity of the cable. The greater the cable bandwidth, the more information it can carry, and the faster it can transmit data across a network.
CAT 5 cables have a maximum bandwidth of 100MHz as do CAT 5e cables. However, CAT5e cables can reach Gigabit Ethernet speeds since they can use all four of their twisted pairs of wires, while CAT 5 cables only give Fast Ethernet speeds because they use only two of the four pairs of wires.
CAT 6 cables have a maximum bandwidth of 250MHz which means that unlike CAT 5e cables that can only handle Gigabit Ethernet speeds, CAT 6 cables are certified to handle these speeds.
The choice is yours
Your choice will ultimately depend on you current and future bandwidth and transmission needs. For instance, if you are doing cable installations with data cabling for your office, you may consider the CAT 6 cable in anticipation of growth and increase in data needs. However, if it's only for your home, CAT 5e or even the CAT 5 may be sufficient.
Be sure to consult your technician before settling on your final choice.