Network cabling standards evolve as networking infrastructure increases in bandwidth capacity. Differences in different categories, or CAT, of network cable affect how effectively they transmit data. Higher-numbered network cables transmit more data than cables delineated by a lower number. Understanding the differences between CAT 5 and CAT 6 begins with understanding the history of networks and network cables.
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Cables that use the CAT delineator for the cabling standard came into use with Ethernet type networking. Early cables were used lower-speed CAT 3 and CAT 4 standards. Cat 5 cables became the standard for 100Base-T network transmission, which transmits Ethernet data at 100 megabits per second (Mbps).
CAT 5 network cables are able to transmit data at 100 Mbps. More recent network cards and equipment are able to send data at 1,000 Mbps. This new standard is called Gigabit Ethernet. Gigabit Ethernet exceeds the capabilities of older CAT 5 cables, and therefore benefits from using CAT 6 level cables.
Wire Thickness And Pairs
CAT 5 and CAT 6 cables use four pairs of wires. Each pair of wires is twisted in pairs to help minimise crosstalk, or interference, caused by the electromagnetic energy of other wire pairs. The wires in CAT 6 cables are nominally thicker than the wires in CAT 5. Because of wire thickness and twisting improvements, CAT 6 offers fewer insertion losses, better crosstalk performance and a better signal to noise ratio than the older CAT 5 cable standard.
Connectors for CAT 5 and CAT 6 cables are identical. Both standards use RJ45 connectors, meaning other than network speed the two cables are completely interchangeable. RJ45 connectors are 8-pin connectors that match the number of wires in both standards. RJ45 connectors are very easy to use and reliable.
CAT 5 is an official networking standard, meaning that you are assured of a particular level of performance when you buy a CAT 5 cable. The fastest official standard is CAT 5e, a faster version of CAT 5 that can achieve 350 Mbps. Cat 6, however, is still not an official standard. Although some manufacturers are able to achieve 1 Mbps throughput, another may only achieve 600 Mbps. CAT 6 is expected to be defined as a formal standard in the future.
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