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Cat5 vs Cat6: Comparison and Choose Guide



What are Cat5 and Cat6 Ethernet cables? What’s the difference between Cat5 and Cat6? What are they used for? How fast are Cat5 and Cat6? Cat5 or Cat6, which one should I choose? Find the answers in the following post.

This article will talk about Cat5 and Cat6 Ethernet cables. Introducing what are Cat5 and Cat6 Ethernet cables. Comparing their differences in every aspect of speed, distance, bandwidth, structure, crosstalk, etc. And also give you guidelines for choosing Cat5 or Cat6.


What is Cat5 Ethernet Cable?

Cat5, short for Category 5 Ethernet cable, is composed of a copper unshielded twisted pair cable and an RJ-45 connector at the terminal.  There are four wire pairs in a Cat 5 cable (as shown in the following figure), each of which has a different twist distance to minimize crosstalk between the pairs. Cat 5 specification was defined in TIA/EIA-568-A. Cat 5 cable supports bandwidth up to 100MHz and transfer speeds up to 100Mbps, and the max cable distance is limited to 100 meters.


Cat 5 Structure Diagram


What is the cat5 cable used for? Cat5 cable is usually used in structured cabling of Ethernet over twisted pairs. It was born with 100Mbps Ethernet. Besides, Cat5 can  also be used to carry telephone and video signals. With the rapid development of the network, the Cat5 Ethernet cable has become obsolete and replaced by its variant of Cat5e. The following part will introduce the Cat5e Ethernet cable in detail. 


Cat5 Variant and Successor: Cat5e

Cat5e (Category 5 enhanced) cable came out in 2001, which meant Cat 5 cable was superseded. Why Cat5 was deprecated since Cat5e came out?  As you understand the differences between Cat5 and Cat5e, the reasons for this will become apparent.

Cat5 vs Cat5e: why Cat5e is better than Cat5


Cat5e has the same transfer bandwidth (100 MHz) and physical appearance as Cat5, they look totally identical. One of the ways to distinguish them is to cut the jacket and inspect the wiring inside. Compared to the Cat5 cable, you can easily find in the following figure, wiring pairs in Cat5e are twisted more tightly. That’s why Cat5e has better performance in reducing crosstalk. 



Cat 5 vs Cat 5e



Cat5e improves Cat5 in some performance indexes, including attenuation, near-end crosstalk, far-end crosstalk, transmission delay, etc, so to speak, Cat5e was specifically born to resist crosstalk compared to Cat5 cables. 



Based on improved transmission performance, Cat5e can support 1000BASE-T (Gigabit Ethernet) and enables longer transmission distance and better transmission quality while Cat5 is only suitable for 100BASE-T at the speed of 100 Mbps.



Besides crosstalk, the other major reason for Cat5e replacing Cat5 is the backward compatibility of the Cat5e cabling system. This means that the Cat5 cabling system can transit smoothly to the Cat5e system.


What is Cat6 Ethernet Cable?

Cat 6 (Category 6 cable) was published in 2002 by TIA. Since the Cat6 Ethernet cable is an upgraded version of Cat5/Cat5e, Cat 6 naturally meets more stringent requirements in specifications and performance than Cat 5 and Cat 5e. Cat6 supports data transfer speeds up to 10 Gbps, and it supports bandwidth up to 250 MHz. Just as the cat5e cabling system is compatible with cat5, the cat6 cabling system is also compatible with cat5/5e. Cat6 Cable can also work on the Cat5 cabling system.


What is Cat6 cable used for? It is typically used in 1000BASE-T and 10GBASE-T Ethernet. When applied in 1000BASE-T, the maximum allowed length of a Cat 6 unshielded twisted pair cable is 100 meters, and when applied in 10GBASE-T, the max distance is limited to 55 meters. If your transmission distance is 55~100 meters, Cat6A or beyond is required.


Cat6 vs Cat5 Cable: Differences and How to Choose

This part will provide an ultimate guide to choosing between Cat5 and Cat6. Before that, let's analyze the differences between difference between cat 5 and cat 6 ethernet cables first:


Cat5 vs Cat6 Speed: Simply speaking, cat6 is faster than cat5. Cat6 supports data transfer speeds up to 10 Gbps while the max speed of Cat5 is 100 Mbps. 


Cat5 vs Cat6 Bandwidth: Cat6 supports bandwidth up to 250 MHz, twice the 100 GHz bandwidth of Cat5 and Cat5e.


Cat5 vs Cat6 Distance: Both Cat5 and Cat6 have a max cable length of 100 meters. The difference is the supported distance in specific applications. For 100BASE-T, both Cat5 and Cat6 can reach 100m. For 1000BASE-T, Cat6 still supports 100m, as for 10GBASE-T, Cat6 is capable of 55 meters, while Cat5 can’t run at 1000BASE-T and 10GBASE-T.


Cat5 vs Cat6 Physical Structure: Cat6 has a similar structure to Cat5. There are also four wire pairs in a standard category 6 cable. Compared to the Cat5 cable, Cat6 adds an insulated cross skeleton inside the cable, and the four pairs of twisted pair wires are respectively placed in the 4 grooves of the cross skeleton. Moreover, Cat6 is also thicker than Cat5. The copper core of the Cat5 cable is less than 0.45mm, and the Cat5e cable is 0.45mm~0.51mm, while that of the Cat6 cable is 0.56mm~0.58mm.


Cat 6 Cable Structure


Cat5 vs Cat6 Crosstalk: Due to their different structure design, compared to Cat5 and Cat5e, the Cat6 cable has improved crosstalk characteristics and system noise. The internal cross separator reduces interference or near-end crosstalk (NEXT). Compared with the Cat5e network cable, it also improves far-end crosstalk (ELFEXT) and has lower return loss and insertion loss.


Cat5 vs Cat6 Application: Cat5/5e support 100/1000BASE-T Ethernet and is more generally used in 100BASE-T, providing speeds up to 100 Mbps, while Ca6 support 100/1000BASE–T and 10GBASE-T and is more generally used in 1000BASE-T, providing speeds up to 1 Gbps.

Cat 5 or Cat 6?

Is cat 6 better than cat 5? The answer is definitely. Cat 5 has been superseded by Cat5e and Cat6. When you purchase an Ethernet cable, you will find Cat5 has not been provided by most cable suppliers. If you hesitate between Cat5e and Cat6, the guidelines I recommend to help you with your decision are as follows:


If price is the main factor you are concerned about, and there is no speed requirement beyond 2.5GBASE-T for now and future, then Cat5e is enough for you. If you want to future-proof your network, Cat6 will be the better choice based on its superior transmission performance, and backward compatibility characteristics.


For more copper or fiber cabling solutions or questions, welcome to contact sales@qsfptek.com.


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