A Deeper Look at Cat 5e, Cat6, and Cat6a Cables

ethernet cables

For technical professionals, differentiating the various types of ethernet cables is an easy task. But, for the untrained eye, all cables look alike. However, there are different types of network cables on the market, all with different bandwidth capabilities.

Cat 5e cable

Cat 5e cables have been in the market for over 15 years. During its initial release, the hardware that would support certain speeds was limited because they were prohibitively expensive. But in the recent past, high-performance hardware has become more affordable, and now it is possible for more businesses and individuals to use Cat 5e cables.

Cat5e supports speeds of up to 1,000 Megabits per second (1Gbps) Ethernet at 100MHz. The Cat5e cable is an improvement of the Cat5. The ā€œeā€ stands for enhanced due to the reduced crosstalk. Additionally, the Cat5e cable is flexible and good for setups that require frequent changes. Cat5e is available in either shielded or unshielded wires as well as stranded and copper wires.

Cat6 cables

Cat6 cables are an improvement on the Cat5e cables in terms of both speed and reliability. The Cat6 cables have more twisted pairs, which give them less crosstalk than Cat5 and Cat5e cables. Cat 5e and Cat6 ethernet cables have the same size jacket size, despite this. Some Cat6 manufactures will place a spline in the cable to allow for fewer twists and more separation, thus requiring less copper. Since the Cat6 has the potential for higher speeds and less crosstalk, many home and business owners are opting for a network with Cat6 cables.

Like the Cat5e, the Cat6 can also achieve speeds of 1 Gbps, but the main difference is that the latter achieves these speeds at a bandwidth of up to 250 MHz. The cable is more tightly woven than the Cat5e.

Cat6a cable

The other category of ethernet cables is the Cat6a cables. This cable was created to support 10Gbase-T networks, as the Cat5e and Cat6 cables are only able to support a max of 2.5 Gigabit and 5 Gigabit data rates, respectively. The ā€œaā€ stands for augmented which mean it performs at higher speeds over a long distance, and it is also backward compatible with Cat5e and Cat6. It also has very minimal crosstalk. Because Cat6a cables have better performance, they can support bandwidth frequency of up to 500 MHz which is double the capabilities of the Cat6 and five times the capabilities of the Cat5e.

The cables have more shielding which enables them to eliminate crosstalk. The Cat6a cables have a thicker jacket than the Cat6, but is grooved to help guide the twisted pairs around each other. Cat6a is often constructed with a spline to help with cross talk. Cat6a cables are best suited for more demanding setups like industrial environments, or anywhere you have greater than a Gigabit network connection.

Understanding UTP, S/UTP, and F/UTP

  • UTP – UTP stands for Unshielded Twisted Pair. This is a baseline cable, where there is no shielding. In this type of cable, there is an outer jacket and insulated conductors configured in pairs.
  • S/UTP – S/UTP cables are fairly standard. They are similar to the previous cable, except this has a braided shield in it. This creates a barrier to resist outside interference.
  • S/FTP – This stands for Foiled Unshielded Twisted Pair. As a more complex cable, it is both designed to reduce outside interference through the braided shield, and internal interference through the foil. This foil is wrapped around each pair inside of the cable.

Which Type Of Ethernet Cables Should You Use?

The type of cable that you decide to use will ultimately be informed by several factors. They include cost, the life expectancy of the cabling, network speeds and lastly the environment of the system. Cat5e cables are the most affordable and in most cases will get the job done. However, for heavier usage, you should use Cat6 and Cat6a cables.

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