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Cat5 vs Cat5e and what are the differences?

Cat5 cabling is a common phrase often used to describe any type of data cabling. In cases where people are not aware of the differences of various data cabling categories the generic phrase Cat5 is often used. However assuming what you already have in you building is suitable for today’s technology requirements can lead to major problems on your networks. Generally Cat5e is suitable for a large proportion of technology installations. However Cat5 is now a legacy cable and not suitable at all. Therefore we will compare Cat5 vs Cat5e and also look at the differences to the higher categories of cable

What is Cat5 Data Cabling?

Prior to 2001 Cat5e was the standard for all data cabling installations. In addition it was still commonly used for many years after that. However the introduction of Cat5e as a standard in 2001 created a large lead in capability.

Cat5 cabling is ratified to perform up to bandwidth of 100MHz and carry 10 megabits and 100 megabits of data. Therefore it is not suitable to carry 1 gigabit speeds which the majority of modern systems run on

As with all subsequent cabling systems Cat5 cabling is standardised to work up to a maximum of 90m per link with an allowance of 5m patch leads at each end. Furthermore the cable came in a choice of shielded or unshielded construction. It is not possible to still purchase Cat5 cable

What is Cat5e Cabling?

Cat5e cabling is the enhanced version of Cat5 cabling. It was standardised in 2001 with the goal of improving certain elements of the cable to meet Gigabit Ethernet requirements. Therefore for many years it was the minimum requirement for new data cabling installations.

In recent years Cat6 and Cat6a have become the recommended minimum cabling requirement for new installations. However many installations are still undertaken with Cat5e due to budget savings of installing Cat5e over Cat6 cabling.  In summary a Cat5e install will cost between 10 and 20% less compared to a Cat6 installation. This of course will depends on number of outlets, type of building and installation time.

Where may legacy Cat5 cabling still be found?

Cat5 cabling is still commonly found in buildings that haven’t had a cabling upgrade since 2001 and sometimes a few years after that. However the most common situation is found when companies upgrade their telephone systems to voice over IP systems (VoIP).

In these cases the data cabling has been upgraded to Cat5e and Cat6 for the computers, Wifi, Printers etc. However as the phone system was on a dedicated system and controlled by a separate company the cabling was left in place. Digital phone systems will happily work on Cat5 so there is no reason to change.

However the problem occurs when the company upgrades to VoIP and the phones are installed onto existing cabling and at times the PC’s plugged into the Phones. The existing sockets are data sockets as there are Cat5. However the PCs require gigabit and unknown to the business the cabling is Cat5 and limits their speed to 100Mb.

Therefore the problem is it looks like you have a suitable set of data cabling outlets for VoIP. However the legacy cabling instead causes issues for your technology.

Cat5 vs Cat5e compared to Modern Cabling Systems

As technology moves on so does the requirements for the data transmission speeds they require for operation. For example a large number of technology now runs on 10 Gigabit Ethernet speed. Therefore the cabling recommendation is for Cat6a and above. In addition some installations are specifying Cat7 cabling for future proofing and also looking towards Cat8.

The chart below shows how the different cable categories can transmit different speeds and requirements at different distances

Cat5 vs Cat5e Cabling comparison chart








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