Cat5E Cat6 & Cat6A: What is the best ethernet cable for you?
Ethernet cables are constantly upgraded to improve their performance and bandwidth. With a myriad of options to choose from, one might get confused easily while deciding the best Ethernet for their network.
This confusion has led people to look for an answer to the question Cat5E vs. Cat6 vs. Cat6A: Which is the best cabling option?
To clear off this uncertainty, we will compare these three cabling standards to help you understand how they are different from each other and what should be your preference according to your network requirements.
Cat5e or Category 5 enhanced Ethernet cables are high-speed cables that have been around for over two decades. Cat 5e cables provide Gigabit Ethernet speed up to a distance of 328 feet or 100m.
Although Cat5e is physically similar to Cat5 cables, these cables offer improved performance over Cat5 Ethernet cables. These cables include 24-gauge twisted pairs of wires. Cat 5e Ethernet cables can be used for 1000Base-T and 100Base-T Ethernet.
The progress towards Cat5e cable fulfilled the requirements of the latest Gigabit standards, including transmitting of signals through all eight conductors (instead of four conductors in previous cabling standards).
Cat 6 or category 6 is an Ethernet cabling standard defined by the Telecommunications Industry Association and Electronic Industries Association. Cat 6 is the sixth-generation cabling standard used in the networking industry. Cat6 cables are backward compatible with their predecessor standards, including Cat 5e, Cat 5, and Cat 3 cables.
The Cat 6 cables are manufactured to meet stricter specifications than previous cabling standards for crosstalk and data transmission. The Cat 6 Ethernet Cables can provide a performance of up to 250 MHz, higher than Cat 5e and Cat 5 cables. Category 6 cables have tighter twists in the wires, allowing 2-way communication.
Cat 6a or Category 6 Augmented cables were developed to enhance the Cat6 cable’s performance. These cables provide up to 10 Gigabit Ethernet data transfers to a distance of up to 328 feet with a maximum bandwidth of 500 MHz, whereas Cat 6 cables support the same data rate to a distance of only 164 feet. Cat 6A Ethernet cables are also backward compatible with Cat 6, Cat 5, and Cat 5e cables.
Cat 5E vs. Cat 6 vs. Cat 6A: Comparison
Cat 5e cables can only support Gigabit Ethernet or 1GBASE-T or 1000BASE-T Ethernet. On the other hand, Cat 6 and Cat6a cables can be used for 10 Gigabit Ethernet or 10GBASE-T Ethernet.
However, Cat 6 cables can support 10 Gigabit Ethernet for a distance of 30-55 meters, while Cat 6a cables can support 10 Gigabit Ethernet for over 100 meters. This is because Cat 6a cables can perform up to 500 MHz, which is twice compared to Cat 6 cables (200 MHz).
- Maximum Length
Cat 5e cables can support Gigabit Ethernet up to a distance of 100 meters or 328 feet. On the contrary, Cat 6 and Cat 6a cables can support 10 Gigabit Ethernet or 10GBASE-T Ethernet.
Cat 6 cables can support 10 Gigabit Ethernet up to a distance of 55 meters, while Cat 6a can support a distance of up to 100 meters. If your network application needs to cover the length more than the maximum supported distance, switches and repeaters can be used to amplify the signal.
Cat5e, Cat 6, and Cat 6a cables use twisted pairs of copper wires. The specifications for Cat 6 and Cat 6a cables include stringent features for reducing system noise and crosstalk, providing enhanced performance of 250 MHz and 500MHz. In contrast, the cat5e cables can only offer a performance of up to 100 MHz. Cat 6 and Cat 6a cables are more rigid compared to Cat 5e Ethernet cables.
Cat 6 and Cat 6a cables were developed to improve the performance of the previous versions of cabling standards and to meet the transmission speed of up to 10 Gbps. The 10GBASE-T standard was implemented to reduce the interference due to cable and the peripherals connected to it (or signal to noise ratio). These cables also feature reduced crosstalk (interference due to nearby cables).
It can be difficult to distinguish between the three types of cables based on their appearance as all three Ethernet cables have an almost identical appearance. Also, these cables cannot be distinguished by colors. However, Cat 6e cables are thicker than Cat 6 Ethernet cables, and Cat 6 are thicker than Cat 5e cables.
Moreover, one also cannot identify cables just by looking at the plug because all three cables use RJ45 connectors. The only way to identify the cables is by looking at the cable jacket. The category is always printed on the cable jacket.
- Shielding and Durability
Due to its ubiquitous shielding, Cat 6a cables are bulkier and heavier than Cat6 and Cat 5e cables. Although the Ethernet cables may look sturdy, the inners are very fragile. Hence, it is recommended not to bend these cables too much as bending beyond a certain limit can damage the wiring and impact the performance.
The minimum radius to which Ethernet cables can be bent without causing any damage is called the bend radius. The higher the bend radius, the les the cable can be bent. Hence, a lower bend radius means more flexibility of the cables. Usually, the bend radius is four times the diameter of the cable.
As Cat 6a cables are bulkier and thicker, they have a higher bend radius than Cat5e and Cat 6 cables. This means that the Cat 6a cables are more fragile and prone to damage when bent.
From the comparison between these cables, one can easily figure out which type of cable can be the best fit according to their networking requirements. As these cables mainly differ from each other in performance, the choice of the cabling standard should depend on the network application.
For instance, if the network required 10GBASE-T standard for a distance of more than 55 meters, one needs to prefer Cat 6a cables over Cat 6 cables. On the other hand, for the network that requires 1000BASE-T Ethernet, Cat 5e cables can be the best option. However, in this case, one can choose any of the three categories of cables because Cat 6 and Cat 6a cables are backward compatible with Cat 5e cables.