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The Different Types of Ethernet Cables: CAT5, CAT5E, and CAT6

April 10, 2013

The Different Types of Ethernet Cables: CAT5, CAT5E, and CAT6

By Daniel Brecht
Contributing Writer

Those that are not computer savvy or familiar with cabling terminology ought to know that the use of Ethernet cables is what enables one to connect devices such as modems, routers and adapters to establish a working network. This is a type of twisted EIA/TIA (News - Alert) cable, which is what reduces electrical interference and crosstalk, and uses a RJ-45 Ethernet connector to enable an at-home or office computer data connectivity on a network to be able to transmit data signals.

In a nutshell, a LAN PC uses an 8P8C (eight position eight contact) “modular phone jack/plug" or RJ (registered jack) 45 to setup a wired local area network (LAN) using some standardized Ethernet cable based upon ones’ needs.

Choosing the right network Ethernet cable may be hard for anyone who is unexperienced in installation and connecting components. Therefore, it is paramount to know the various Ethernet cables (and their specified performance characteristics for that matter): They are categorized as either Category 5 (Cat 5), CAT5 enhanced (CAT5e) or CAT6.

CAT 5, which is the fifth generation of twisted pair Ethernet technology, offers high-speed networking performance of up to 1000 Mbps. It has a capacity of up to 100MHz and can support traffic up to 100 MB/sec. Suitable for 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX (Fast Ethernet), and 1000BASE-T (Gigabit Ethernet).

For CAT 5, there is the choice of Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) and Screened Twisted Pair (SCTP); with the latter providing extra protection against interference.

CAT 5 even is available in two varieties: solid and stranded. Both can be found in home and office networking, yet because stranded cables are more flexible and cost less than solid ones some users prefer it. However, since solid Category 5 solid cables supports a higher level of performance, there are users that pay extra for it.

Further, CAT 5 is not always used as it is older and slower than its counterpart, CAT 5e, which fulfills higher standards of data transmission. As a result, it has come to be the popular choice for most wired LANs as it supports both fast Ethernet and gigabyte Ethernet.

The Category 5 enhanced version can handle data transfer at 1000 Mbps. It provides lower levels of near-end crosstalk (NEXT) and supports higher speeds than CAT 5. Therefore, when in need of a fast and reliable network that can even deliver less interference, CAT 5e should be used rather than CAT 5.

There is also always the option to go with the sixth generation of twisted pair Ethernet cabling. Category 6 cable, which is backward compatible with the Category 5/5e, offers alien crosstalk (AXT (News - Alert)) characteristics, is more advanced, provides better performance and is better insulated than older Ethernet versions.

In short, the CAT 6 cable offers twice the bandwidth of CAT 5. It is able to operate at up to 250 MHz, can reduce crosstalk and allows for faster data transfer. It is comprised of four pairs of twisted wires.

All Ethernet cabling comparisons considered, one may still ask which one is favored, necessary, or should be used? It really comes down to the users’ traffic amount, need for high-speed network data, network bandwidth, and desire for maximum performance and network reliability.

Those that would like to know more about the differences between these three Ethernet cables can learn more from this video.

Edited by Jamie Epstein
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