Cat5 vs Cat5e vs Cat6 – Which Should You Use?
At Omaha Communications we want our customers to have the information that they need to make informed decisions about their computer networks. One of the most common questions that we get is what kind of cable to install in a new computer network. This article is written to help you understand the differences between the three most common types of “computer and telephone” (CAT) cabling available – CAT5, CATe and CAT6.
Here is a brief comparison of the main network cable types
Cat5 vs Cat5e
- Network support – CAT 5 cable will support 10BASE-T and 100BASE-T networks, that is it supports networks running at 10 Mbps or 100 Mbps. CAT 5e is an enhanced version of Cat5. Cat5e cable is completely backwards compatible with Cat5, and can be used in any application in which you would normally use Cat5 cable. However, the added specifications of Cat5e enable it to support Gigabit Ethernet (1000BASE-T), or networks running at 1000 Mbps.
- Crosstalk – Crosstalk is the “bleeding” of signals between one cable into another, due to a process called induction. This effect can result in slow network transfer speeds, and can even completely block the transfer of signals over the cable. The Cat5e specification includes improvements which dramatically reduce crosstalk.
- Bandwidth – The bandwidth of a given conveyance media is essentially it’s information carrying capacity. The greater the bandwidth of a system, the faster it is able to carry data across a network. Cat5 is rated at 100Mhz while Cat5e is rated at 350Mhz. This coupled with other more stringent specifications makes Cat5e ideally suited for networks which plan to operate at Gigabit Ethernet speeds.
- Bottom Line: Given the small increase in price between Cat5 and Cat5e we always recommend installing Cat5e to “future proof” you network so that it can work with Gigabit Ethernet.
Cat5e vs Cat6
There is a great deal of debate among people about whether new cabling installations should use Cat5e or Cat6. While Cat5e can support gigabit speeds, Cat6 is certified to handle gigabit Ethernet. Additionally, the Cat6 specification is better suited toward environments that are generally unfriendly to twisted pair cabling. This includes areas that have lots of interference from things like power lines, lights, and manufacturing equipment.
Bottom Line: Cat5e is perfectly suitable and preferable to Cat6: it is more economical and performs almost as well. However, if you definitely intend to install a Gigabit network we recommend that you install Cat6 cable from the outset. The cable and components are more expensive, but you avoid the cost of ripping out and replacing the cable in the future. In general a Cat6 network will run between 10% and 20% more than the cost of an identical Cat5e network.