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What is the difference between Cat5 and Cat6

Cat5 now commonly known as Cat5e and Cat6 are in many ways very similar. Furthermore their transmission in some cases are also quite similar. However there are a few ways in which Cat6 excels Cat5e in performance. The difference between Cat5 and Cat6 includes:

  • They are constructed slightly differently
  • Cat6 cabling has a higher bandwidth capability
  • Cat6 data cabling is capable of 10 gigabit Ethernet speeds at short distances
  • There is a difference in material costs

Cat5 and Cat5e Cabling

When comparing Cat5 and Cat6 cabling what we are really comparing is Cat5e and Cat6. In short Cat5e replaced Cat5 as the standard in 2001. Furthermore Cat5e was able to transmit 1 gigabit Ethernet which was previously unattainable with the previous standard.

Generally Cat5 cabling is still used as the default phrase when discussing  a large amount of data cabling installation.  However it is sometimes used when actually Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a or eyond is actually required. Therefore when we are comparing modern Cat5 and Cat6 we are comparing with the enhanced version.

Construction of the data cable

To the visual eye both types of data cable look very similar if not the same. However their are differences in overall size and the reasons for the size increase

  1. The overall diameter of a Cat6 data cable is around 10% larger. Although this isn’t a lot for a single cable if hundreds of cables are involved then it makes a big difference. Subsequently to the size of the containment required. Furthermore tray work and conduits may need to be increased
  2. The individual cores in a Cat6 cable are more tightly twisted. The cores are twisted to reduce interference between cores. Therefore by a tighter twist the chances of a similar signal clashing along the cable are minimised
  3. The Cat6 cable has a central plastic separate. In both cables the cores are twisted into 4 pairs (8 cores overall). In addition in the Cat6 cable the central separator splits the 4 pairs into their own section. The diagrams below illustrate this:
Difference between cat5 and cat6 cabling Difference between cat5 and cat6 cable

Difference between Cat5 and Cat6 Bandwidth Capability

Bandwidth is the range of frequencies that can be used for transmission of data along a data cable. Therefore more data information can be carried over a larger bandwidth. Furthermore it is the amount of data that can be transferred at one time

In short Cat6 cable has more than twice the bandwidth capability of Cat5e cable. Indeed the comparison is 250Mhz against 100Mhz

Gigabit and 10 Gigabit Ethernet

A large portion of technology will be built based on the transmission capabilities of its hardware. For example a PC may have a 1 Gigabit or 10 Gigabit Ethernet card built in. Furthermore a data switch in the comms cabinet will be rated in a similar way.

This is a way Cat5e and Cat6 in which the capabilities of the different categories differ. However they only differ in their capabilities and not to the ratified data cabling standards

All Copper data cabling is ratified on its performance over a 90m permanent link. For this reason over 90m both Cat5e and Cat6 are only able to transmit 1 Gigabit Ethernet. However Cat6 cable has the ability to transmit 10 Gigabit Ethernet up to 55 metres. However when designing a structured cabling installation if 10 Gig is required then the overall cabling design should allow for Cat6a as a minimum. For this purpose it is the minimum standard for a 10Gig install

The chart below shows the different cables and their capabilities as an example

Cat5 vs Cat5e Cabling comparison chart

Difference between Cat5 and Cat6 Material Costs

When comparing an overall installation of the 2 categories the main difference in price is in the materials. For the most part the installation time of both cables is the same. Therefore the difference is in the materials.

The structured cabling system components for any link are

  • The cable itself
  • Patch Panel
  • Data Module
  • Patch Leads

Each of these components costs more in Cat6 cabling. However the larger the installation the less the overall percentage increase in cost it will be. In summary Cat6 cabling will be approximately 15% more when compared with Cat5e cabling

In addition due to the larger size of Cat6 in some cases larger containment will be required. generally on a new installation this will not make much difference as different containment can be chosen. However in a situation when there is containment in place but not suitable then a swap out cost can be incurred.



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