Ethernet Cables Explained: Which Category Is Best?

If you require a wired internet connection at your home or office, you’re probably familiar with what an Ethernet cable is for. But you might not realize that your choice of cable could impact your connection in a big way. Although all Ethernet cables serve the same purpose and consist of four twisted pairs of wires, there are differences between the various categories that could affect your overall experience. If you want to take full advantage of your higher bandwidth and speed up your downloads, you might want to pay attention to this guide.

Cat3 and Cat5 Cables
First, let’s talk about a couple of cables you might have used in the past but don’t see nearly as often today. Cables in these two categories may still exist, but they aren’t always readily available anymore — particularly the Cat3. That cable was used frequently in the 1990s, but since it has a maximum bandwidth of only 16 MHz, it’s obviously fallen out of favor and has been replaced with better options. Cat5 cables are still used on occasion, but the next category of cable tends to be the preferable alternative.

Cat5e Cables
Cat5e ethernet cables are the enhanced version of Cat5 (that’s what the “e” actually stands for). You might not be able to tell the difference between the two just by looking at them. But the Cat5e safeguards against unwanted signal transfers. This makes it a more reliable product in general. Plus, it’s faster and affordable — which means it’s no surprise it’s probably the most popular of all the ethernet cable options. This is usually a good go-to for many casual home users. That said, it might not be quite enough for those who depend on fast connections and have the router capabilities that necessitate a better cable.

Cat6 Cables and Cat6a Cables
Cat6 cables are more expensive to produce than Cat5e cables. The trade-off, though, is that they support higher bandwidths. And unlike Cat5, Cat5e, and Cat3 cables, these ones can come with shielding to even further protect against crosstalk and noise interference problems. Cat6a cables are even more advanced. These augmented variations maintain higher transmission speeds over greater distances and actually support twice the maximum bandwidth of regular Cat6 cables. They’re less flexible than Cat6 due to their sheathing, which can be a concern for some. But the fact that they can actually eliminate interference and unwanted signals may be worth it, especially if you frequently stream a lot of video content and use several different devices on a regular basis.

Now that you’re a bit more familiar with the different cable categories, we hope you’ll feel more informed when it comes time to make a purchase. Don’t forget: a new cable isn’t the only component you’ll need for fast internet and high bandwidth capabilities. So buying the newest type of cable may actually work against you if you’re on a slow network with a low-quality router. For more information about determining the best kind of cable for your needs, please get in touch with us today.