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Do Cat6 cables work with Cat5?

When clients are upgrading their technology and consequently their network infrastructure we are commonly asked do Cat6 cables work with Cat5? This however depends on whether the questions is with regards to a physical or technical situation.

Physically all Cat5e, Cat6 and Cat6a elements will fit into the others cabling hardware

What makes up a data cabling link and infrastructure?

The overall link of a computer cabling link consists of the following

  1. A Patch panel that is housed within the data cabling cabinet
  2. The Actual computer cabling from the cabinet to the user hardware
    • PC’s
    • Telephones
    • Wifi
    • Printers
    • Audio Visual
  3. The computer cabling modules at the user end (Where the cabling terminates)
  4. Computer cabling patch leads at the user and cabinet end
    • The cables that connect from the modules to the PC’s, Telephones etc
    • The cables that connect from the patch panel to the data switch / router

Therefore regardless if you have any of those elements in Cat5e, Cat6 or Cat6a they will all have the same termination panels and outlets as standard. This standard is refereed to as an RJ45. Furthermore elements of Cat7 and Cat8 cabling can work with the lower categories but they have additional terminals in their connectors that don’t match with Cat5e, Cat6 and Cat6a for the overall solution

Data Cabling and its rating at the weakest point

The problem is that in any computer cabling network the overall performance of the data cabling system is only as good as its weakest part. Therefore if there is a Cat5 element anywhere in the infrastructure the overall system will be rated as Cat5.

Therefore looking at the overall computer cabling link elements you can have the following as an example

  • Cat6 Patch Panels
  • Infrastructure of Cat6 Cable
  • Cat6 Modules
  • Cat5e Patch Leads

In this scenario the overall link would work and fit together. However the overall link rating would only be Cat5e even though 75% of the components are Cat6 cable and connectors. Furthermore the same would apply in any combination of mixing those elements between Cat5e and Cat6. It would always be rated at the lower category. In addition this is the same for mixing Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7 and Cat8. It always reudces to its weakest component

Where do we commonly see this situation?

The most common situation where this is seen is exactly as in the example above. A client will install a higher grade overall cabling system (i.e Cat6a) and then either unknowingly buy a lesser grade patch lead (i.e Cat6) or buy a lower category patch lead to save money. Therefore instantly reducing the higher grade and higher cost overall cabling network to a lower alternative

The opposite can also occur where clients buy Cat6 patch leads to use on their Cat5e network which is an unnecessary cost as it doesn’t improve the overall performance

Unfortunately it is also at times seen where installations are undertaken where the panels and modules are Cat6. This is because they can be seen by the client. However the installer has used Cat5e cable to link it all together and thereby saving cost on the cable without the clients knowledge. Unless the client knows what to look for its hard to tell what is a Cat5e and what is a Cat6 cable from a quick look.

What is the difference between the different computer cabling categories?

The overall choice of IT cabling infrastructure will depend on

  • Connection speed requirements (1 gigabit, 10 gigabit)
  • Existing infrastructure
  • Building construction and space (Cat6a requires a larger amount of trunking and space to install for example)
  • Budget / Cost

In the first instance the decision should be based on the connection requirements you require. There is no point having 10 gigabit connection requirements for your PC’s and then installing Cat5e as it will never work. The other elements then come into place to design and implement the correct system to match the building and budget

do cat6 cables work with cat5 chart






Summary of do cat6 cables work with cat5

In summary the answers to the question are

  1. Yes Cat5 and Cat6 will work together (as will Cat6a, Cat7 etc)
  2. However No they wont work to the expected standard as the higher grade elements are always reduced to the lower elements

We are always happy to advise and take a look at existing data cabling installations when considering an upgrade. We can then outline what can be reatined and what is required to upgrade. Therefore combining the design into an overall proposal and quotation


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