When using Ethernet Cables, we hear the term CAT5e Cable and CAT6 Cable, so what is the difference? Both of these cables are referred to as twisted pair copper cable, both of them have 8 individual insulated copper wires and both are normally terminated with an RJ-45 connector. So what's the big deal?
The original Ethernet data standards used copper coaxial cable to transfer data on the early packet switched networks.
10Base5 networks used fairly stiff 0.375 inch, 50 ohm impedance coaxial cable, and was often characterised by its Creamy Yellow external insulated coating. It was often attached to the wall similar to a Dado Rail and was often known as Thick Ethernet. It was designed to pass Ethernet signals at 10 Mbps over a maximum distance of 500 metres, and this could be extended up to 2500 metres using 4 repeaters.
10Base2 networks utilised 50 ohm impedance coaxial cable that was much thinner and more flexible than 10Base5, but the Ethernet signals were still designed to be transmitted over this medium at 10 Mbps, albeit over a much shorter distance of around 185 metres, which could be extended up to 925 metres with the addition of 4 repeaters. Both the 10Base5 and 10Base2 standards have become largely obsolete and twisted pair cable is now the common wired network medium.
Twisted Pair Ethernet Cable
10BaseT was developed in the early 1980s and it mainly used Category 3 cable for transmissions up to 10 Mbs over distances up to 100 metres. Ethernet standards evolved to include faster data rate transmission and the 10BaseTx 100 Mbps and 1000Baset 1000 Mbps standards were introduced. Cat3 cable was no longer had sufficient bandwidth response to deal with these faster technologies and so the Cat5 and Cat5e cable standards were introduced which allowed data speeds at up to 100 Mbps and 1000 Mbps respectively. The original Cat5 standard was fine for the 100BaseTx transmissions but was quickly superseded by Cat5e as the 1000BaseT standard became commonplace.
So what is the difference between CAT5e and CAT6 Cable? Well the cables are constructed in a similar manner with 4 copper pairs, making 8 wires in total. Each pair of wires are colour coded and twisted around each other to help reduce Crosstalk. The Cat5e cable is rated up to 100Mhz and supports up to 1 Gigabit Ethernet, whilst the Cat6 cable is rated up to 250Mhz and can support 10 Gigabit Ethernet signals.
Cat6 Ethernet Cable has over 2 twists per centimetre whereas Cat5e Ethernet Cable only has 1.5 to 2 twists per centimetre. The result is that Cat6 Cable better protects against Crosstalk. Another difference is that the sheath thickness is also greater when comparing Cat6 with Cat5e. Some of the Category 6 cables actually have a Nylon Spine and the combination of this spine and the thicker sheath protect against Near End Crosstalk (NEXT) and Alien Crosstalk (AXT), which can increase as the frequency increases.
Most Ethernet Cables in use are UTP (Unshielded Twisted Pair), as these are the cables recommended to be used between your peripheral devices such as computers and the wall socket. STP (Shielded Twisted Pair) Cables are recommended to be used for outdoor installations and also for cable runs inside internal walls.
Stranded cables are more flexible and are more often used for computer to wall socket and for general home network use, but often businesses usually prefer the solid cables when it comes to the wiring inside walls and wiring ducts due to its superior strength and enhanced network performance.
In summary, Category 5 enhanced cables are sufficient for most applications for speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second, but if you anticipate the use of 10 Gbps Ethernet in the future then Category 6 cable will future proof your investment. Also Category 6 cable, even at the 1 Gbps speeds will give enhanced protection against errors.