CAT-5 vs. CAT-6 Ethernet

Written by james woudon
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CAT-5 vs. CAT-6 Ethernet
The RJ-45 plug standard hasn't changed for Category 6 Ethernet cable. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Category 5 (and 5e) are the current industry standard for home network cabling, perfectly suited for the 100MB/sec Fast Ethernet standard that is sufficient for local network use. Since current network infrastructure and typical user needs aren't particularly strenuous, there hasn't been a widespread adoption of Category 6 Ethernet cable, which is potentially much faster and much more efficient than Cat5 or Cat5e. These benefits aren't immediately obvious, since Cat6 is entirely backward compatible with current networking structures.

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Crosstalk

Cat5 and Cat6 are made up of the same 4 twisted pairs of cables, although Cat6 cable wires are have better insulation and a crosstalk modulator. This means that crosstalk, which is "noise" or interference from nearby data or voice lines, is greatly diminished because the twisted pairs are so well shielded from one another. However, Cat5 cables are less physically fragile because they are made from thinner and more pliable cabling.

Max Distance

The most obvious advantage to Cat6 cable is that the maximum length of a single cable can be much longer than a Cat5 or Cat5e cable. The maximum rated length, meaning the length a cable can be without significant degradation in transmission quality, of a Cat5/5e cable is 100 meters. A Cat6 cable can be 500 meters before reaching this limit.

Reliability

The thicker gauge of the wires that make up the twisted pairs of Cat6 is specifically constructed to take full advantage of Gigabit Ethernet. Cat6 was constructed with a potential bandwidth of 200 MHZ as opposed to 100 MHZ of Cat5. More bandwidth allows narrower bands to travel end-to-end without loss of data or interference.

Gigabit Ethernet

While Cat5/5e can support Gigabit Ethernet, Cat6's distinguishing features, such as the thicker gauge, wider potential bandwidth and tighter pairs, are meant to future-proof the standard for the expansion of bigger and faster networks. With the newer fibre-based home and office networks, Cat6 is greatly beneficial and more efficiently uses the available bandwidth.

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