Ethernet or network cables are named dependant on their category numbers, which help you to quickly identify which is which. The most common categories are Cat5, Cat5e and Cat6 – although Cat5 is now largely being phased out with Cat5e having taken its place as the industry standard. The way the naming works is that the higher the number, the better the performance you can expect from the network cable.

As the technology advances a number of differences are introduced in order to improve the performance on offer. This quick and easy guide from Comms Express outlines the key differences between Cat5, Cat5e and Cat6 cables and how this will help you decide which cables you need for your next cabling project.

Cat5e Sets the Standard

Cat5e stands for Category 5 Enhanced and is widely recognised as the industry standard and is a baseline requirement for modern network installation projects. Cat5e was designed to increase internet speeds and the reliability of wired networks; the main improvement from Cat5 was simply achieved by doubling the number of copper wires within the cables to improve performance.

It is worth noting that Cat5e is backwards compatible with Cat5 installations but it is important to remember that the lower standard will determine the maximum performance you can expect to receive.

What Speeds You Can Expect?

Cat5 cables are no longer widely installed as the capabilities of the cables are vastly outperformed by its successors Cat5e and Cat6. A Cat5 cable can transfer data at 10/100 MBPS and this used to set the standard for network speeds.

It is possible to achieve 100MBPS on a Cat5 cable but only if you use a shorter cable. The maximum cable length for each of the categories is 100m, but it is worth remembering that a Cat6 cable will also only be able to achieve 10GBPS if you use a maximum cable length of 55m. When it comes to speed, the length of the cable can be just as important as the category of the cable itself.

However, with the increasing demands of internet users from their connections, a Cat6 network is far more effective at delivering a speedy internet connection in general. By point of comparison, a Cat5e cable can achieve 1000MBPS and you can expect a significant improvement in speeds provided you maintain the length of the cables you are using.

How has the Insulation Improved Cable Performance?

Cat6 cables are more suitable for high-end networking as improved insulation ensures that crosstalk is reduced from a Cat5 or even Cat5e cable. Crosstalk refers to interference between uninsulated cables where the signals are allowed to inhibit each other. In earlier Cat5 and Cat5e cables the interference is more likely to result in a poor user experience and the inability to maintain a practicable connection as a result.

Once you’ve identified the cabling you need for your next project, visit our Express Cable Finder to find out more.