Cat 5 vs Cat 5E vs Cat 6 – What Is Your Best Bet?

Cable installers get asked a lot of question. How did you get into your field? What do you do, exactly? And, what is the difference between all of these wires, Cat 5 vs Cat 5E vs Cat 6? Until the year 2001, when Cat 5e was introduced, the wire ratings went all of the way down to Cat 3. It is true that this can still be found in some older homes, provided the owners haven’t upgraded, but it has no practical application in new buildings.

Cat 5 vs Cat 5E vs Cat 6 – What’s the difference?

The opinions expressed in this article are designed to help you make up your own mind. Because, as we know, cable installers never have a tough time developing an opinion. This being said, you may meet those in the profession who will disagree and have their reasons.
Cat 5 vs Cat 5E vs Cat 6

Similarities

Let’s start with the similarities. All of these cables have the same type of end. The RJ-45 end is the standard Ethernet plug that will fit into routers, computers, and switches. Aside from this, they really are quite different.

Cat 5 Cable

If you are on a budget, Cat 5 is by far the least expensive. Cat 6 will run you about 30% more than Cat 5 and Cat 6A is about 60% more than Cat 5. Also, keep in mind that STP (shielded cabling) will add 40% to the cost over UTP (unshielded cabling). For most of your clients, a budget is a real factor and for many, it is the main factor.

Cat 5e Cable

Cat 5e is a good basic wire. They are typically 24 gauge and can run a Gigabit network for 328 ft. It has been around for over 15 years. When this wire was invented we first saw the potential for Gigabit networks. At the time, the hardware was harder to find. Now, gigabit networks are a more affordable.

When you have jobs with clients who have a bigger budget you will want to look at the technical differences between the wires.

Cat 6 Cable

A few years after Cat 5e, Cat 6 was developed. With this cable, we gained the ability to have 10 Gig networks. The only problem is that these wires were limited to a range of 164 feet. After this, their speed drops to 1 gigabit, the same level as Cat 3. For most of the early 2000’s Cat 5e was the workstation and Cat 6 was the backbone mostly running from switches to routers.
cat 6 cable
Besides distance and speed, Cat 6 also has another important difference, it has tighter twists in the cables. This allows each pair of wires to have two-way communication with each other. Cat 5e has an occasional delay and a higher skew than Cat 6 does. What this means in layman’s terms is that even though Cat 5 can run at a speed of a Gigabit, it will appear to be slower. It will take more time for a signal to travel from one side to another.

Most of the Cat 6 wires used are 23 gauge though many people prefer 24-gauge wire. Sometimes Cat 6 comes with a plastic separator in the middle. Ideally this is supposed to eliminate crosstalk. But the difference of meters is not noticeable.

Cat 6a Cable

Cat 6a is thicker than its counterparts even though it is also 23 gauge. Part of this is because of the extra thick plastic which houses the wire. The wires are also wound more tightly which adds width on its own. The distance issue, that we see with Cat 6, is resolved with Cat 6a as it is capable of running 10 Gigabit’s per second for a distance of 328 feet. The crosstalk is further reduced in these cables.

When deciding which cable to use, keep this in mind: If you are looking to invest in the future of your network, opt for Cat 6a. But, if you do not require any cable of over 120-150 feet in length, Cat 6 is a viable option.

Speed

For homeowners and many other clients, you will be fine installing Cat 5e wire. For the purpose most people use it for, Cat 5a will be perfectly fine. If you work with a company that saves everything on a cloud you will not require as much internal networking. If this is the case, you will only be limited by your connection speed.

Faster connections are often possible with Cat 5e wire. For most of your clients, this is a great choice. For clients who work with audio and video processing and editing, file transfers, SQL databases, AutoCAD, and roaming profiles on domain controller more internal speed is needed. Opt for Cat 6 or Cat 6a if this is the case.

Assess your needs

At the end of the day, you have to compare your budget versus your needs. Be sure to consider both your short-term and long-term needs (or those of your client) before you make a final decision. In most technical industries, Cat 6a might not be necessary yet, but it soon could be. You have to decide if you want the extra expense now or later.

Also, consider how long you will be at your current facility. If you plan to move to a larger or more adequate facility, you may want to wait to and get Cat 5e now and get Cat 6a at a later time. Think about your budget. Whatever you put into your cable cannot go into other areas of your business.

Now that you know some of the differences between these types of wires it is up to you to weigh them against each other. If you are able to articulate the differences to your clients they will be happy knowing you helped them to make an informed decision. Sometimes, this is the best thing you can do for your customers.

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