Cat5e vs Cat6

Posted by Jordan [archives]

Cabling for a new office can be tricky because it’s all about prediction.  Not only do you have to choose how many ports you need and where they will go (based on how many employees you expect to have in the near future and where they will sit), but you also have to decide between Cat5, Cat5e, and Cat6 cabling.  Let’s start with a quick definition:

Cat5 – Category 5 cabling is an out-of-date standard for Ethernet cabling, which is capable of speeds up to 100 megabits per second.

Cat5e – Category 5e is an improvement on the original Cat5 design.  From the outside they look the same, but Cat5e is capable of speeds up to 1,000 megabits per second. This is because Cat5 and Cat5e cable both have 4 pairs of wires inside, but Cat5 only utilizes 2 pairs at a time while Cat5e uses all four.  The other improvement comes from tighter twisting of those wires.  Cat5 was prone to “crosstalk”, interference between wire pairs, which the tighter twisting in Cat5e remedies.

Cat6 – Cat6 twists the pairs even tighter, and insulates each pair in its own sheath, which prevents crosstalk even in areas with outside interference.  Its other improvement is that it handles information at a higher frequency (250MHz instead of the previous 100MHz), which translates to speeds up to 10,000 megabits per second.

So what should you cable your office with?  Well first of all, forget about Cat5.  As of 2011 its completely out of date for the speed demands of today’s technology.  The real question is: Cat5e or Cat6.  The answer is a little grey, but there are two schools of thought:

cat5e vs cat6, cat5 vs cat6

1. Cat6: Opt for the more expensive investment up front because it will pay off in the future.  Currently there are no devices (in typical office spaces) that require 10,000 megs per second of connectivity, so the extra power of Cat6 is pointless… For now.  But recent history has shown us that advancements in data and processing power increase exponentially.  So the Cat6 school of thought depends on this phenomenon continuing as is.

2. Cat5e: Opt for Cat5e because hard-wired connections will soon be a thing of the past.  As fast as wired technology is advancing, wireless technology is advancing faster.  The Cat5e school of thought says “By the time our devices require the strength of Cat6, everything will be wireless anyways.”

If your business needs to upload and download huge time-sensitive files consistently throughout the day, the choice is Cat6.  For the rest of us, though, its a predication game.  Will wireless technology improve in bandwidth and reliability?  Yes.  Will it improve in time to meet the demands of next year’s devices?  Nobody knows.

Posted on 05. Oct, 2011 by Jordan[archives]

7 Responses to “Cat5e vs Cat6”

  1. Nestor Mejias 7 October 2011 at 8:41 pm #

    Very well put, Jordan. I understand we were successful at a few Cat7 installs. What’s the difference between Cat6 and Cat7? Is Cat7 considered 100Base-T or 1000Base-T?

  2. KrebStar 10 October 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    Basically Cat7 is another improvement in terms of bandwidth and interference prevention. We’ve had requests for Cat7, but actually nobody in the United States installs Cat7 currently, to the best of my knowledge.

  3. Colocation 3 December 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    People aren’t installing cat7 because optical offers more guarantees at lower cost.

  4. Nestor Mejias 9 March 2012 at 7:36 pm #


    Thanks for taking the time out to read our post. The cost of fibre has gone down significantly over the past few years while throughput speeds increase so of course this makes an excellent backbone for any network. That said, I will agree with you 100% on this aspect. On the contrary, replacing an existing copper-based LAN’s with fibre will be a bit costly, though. This is where Cat7 will be essential (in my opinion) in keeping up with fibre’s lightning fast speeds.

    One disadvantage Cat7 may have over fibre is that it may be a little harder to get when compared to the readily available Cat5e or Cat6 cabling. Also, it is labor intense to install, according to one of my cabling techs. The advantage of Cat7 is that it’s way more durable than fibre, especially those delicate connectors. These should ALWAYS be ran & installed by a skilled technician.

  5. ToddB 14 November 2012 at 6:25 am #

    I hate to say it, but this article is quite inaccurate. For instance, you can run gigabit over Cat5 for short distances – up to about 100ft; Cat5e will get you around the full 300ft. Cat6 will handle gigabit just fine as well of course, and can handle 10gb over copper at shorter distances. Cat7 will get you further of course – but Cat7 has a new connector and isn’t really mainstream at all.

    Wireless will never come near the speeds of affordable wired connections. Modern wifi systems give the perception of higher speeds by combining multiple radio signals and running multiple threads at the same time; but they don’t aggregate these signals – so even with modern N wifi that says 300mb or greater, the reality is that for a single file transfer you’ll never get over 65 (that’s the max per chain).

    The only reason people are able to squeeze more over wifi lately – especially in terms of audio/video is that processors are getting cheaper and more powerful so it’s getting easier to put processors on each end that handle compression/decompression that wasn’t possible just a couple short years ago.

    If you’re wiring a home or office, today the standard is Cat6a – wire it anywhere you could ever have a table or desk or printer stand or TV so you’re prepared. Don’t worry about Cat7 even if you like the latest and greatest… on the other hand, for home and anything other than server interconnects, there’s nothing you’ll see in the next 10+ years that needsd greater than Cat5e so Cat6 is already a step ahead.

  6. Deb 10 January 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    I agree with Todd B. cat6 is already a step ahead

  7. Philip 25 February 2013 at 11:57 pm #

    Well done Todd, cat7 should not come into the equasion at this stage, if you were to cable in cat6, to get the best results your computer must have a gigabit network card if it dosen’t then cat5e cabling is all you need, it’s like getting a $300 HDMI cable for a $69 DVD player.

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