Category 5 network cables are commonly referred to as Cat 5. Cat 5e is the enhanced version of Cat 5. Category 6, or Cat 6, is the next step up from Cat 5e. Both of these network cable standards, Cat 5e and Cat 6, offer very fast transmission speeds. But if transmission speed is what you're after, Cat 5e and Cat 6 differ quite a bit technically. Cat 7 requirements are currently being determined.
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Cat 5e is capable of transmitting data up to 1,000 Gbps (1 Gigabit per second). Cat 6 supports transmission speeds up to 10 Gigabits per second. This means that Cat 6 is 10 times faster than Cat 5e. This is a significant specification advantage in terms of transmission speed over the cable.
Cat 5e is specified to operate within the frequency range (bandwidth) of 1 -- 100MHz while Cat 6 is specified to operate within 1 -- 250MHz. This is two and a half times greater bandwidth. In this case, bandwidth means capacity so Cat 6 has two and one half times the capacity of Cat 5e cable.
Signal to Noise
In Cat 6, there are improved specifications for insertion loss, return loss and crosstalk. The cumulative effect of these improved operating characteristics is that Cat 6 has a higher signal-to-noise ratio than Cat 5e, which brings higher reliability for today's network applications and the promise of increased data rates for future applications.
Physical Characteristics and Compatibility
Physically, Cat 5e and Cat 6 cables look the same. They have the same physical characteristics and use the same connectors. However, don't forget that your network will only operate as fast as the slowest component in the network. For example, if you are extending your Cat 5e network and decide to use the faster Cat 6 cable in the new areas of your network, data that must travel through the existing Cat 5e cables will still be restricted to the capability of the Cat 5e cable. You can use the fastest cables available but the resulting network speed will always come down to the speed of the slowest component in a network.
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