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Tip #1030: What’s the Difference: CAT5e, 6 or 6e?
The type of cabling determines maximum network speed and distance.
I want to upgrade my office network to 10 gigabit Ethernet. But that requires replacing my Category 5e cables with either Cat6 or 6e. That got me wondering: What’s the difference?
According to Black Box: “Cat5e, also known as Category 5e or Category 5 Enhanced, is a network cable standard ratified in 1999. Cat5e cables are typically 24-gauge twisted pair wires, which can support Gigabit networks at segment distances up to 100 meters.
Cat6 came out only a few years after Cat5e. Cat6 is a standardised twisted pair cable for Ethernet that is backward compatible with Cat5/5e and CAT 3 cable standards.
Like Cat5e, Cat6 cables support Gigabit Ethernet segments up to 100 m, but they also allow for use in 10-Gigabit networks over a limited distance. At the beginning of this century, Cat5e typically ran to the workstations, whereas Cat6 was used as the backbone infrastructure from router to switches.
The main difference between Cat5e and Cat6 cable lies within the bandwidth, the cable can support for data transfer. Cat6 cables are designed for operating frequencies up to 250 MHz, compared to 100 Mhz for CAT5e. This means that a Cat6 cable can process more data at the same time. Think of it as the difference between a 2- and a 4-lane highway. On both you can drive the same speed, but a 4-lane highway can handle much more traffic at the same time.
Because Cat6 cables perform up to 250 MHz which is more than twice that of CAT5e cables (100 Mhz), they offer speeds up to 10GBASE-T or 10-Gigabit Ethernet, whereas CAT5e cables can support up to 1GBASE-T or 1-Gigabit Ethernet.
1 Gigabit Ethernet supports cables up to 100 meters. 10 Gigabit Ethernet on Cat6 cable limits distance to 55 meters.
A newer version of Cat6 is Cat6e (also called “CAT6A”). According to TrueCABLE:
- Cat6A cable is made and terminated to tighter tolerances than Cat6. This means the copper conductors are twisted tighter. This requires higher specification patch panels, wall jacks, and RJ45 connectors.
- Cat6A speed is at least 500 MHz. This allows 10 Gbp/s (Gigabits per second) up to 328 feet (100 meters). Cat6 speed is 250 MHz. Therefore, it only supports 10 Gbp/s to 165 feet (55 meters) under ideal conditions; less in heavy cross talk environments.
- Cat6A cable often uses thicker copper conductors and jackets. This make installation more difficult and drives up the price.