Data Installation Categories : Differences Explained

Want to know more about which cable category could be right for your business? Below we dive into the differences between the data installation categories, and how these can impact your business.

What are the differences between Cat 5, Cat 5e, Cat 6?

Cat 5

Out of these three cables, Cat 5 is by far the slowest.

It can support 10/100 Mbps speeds at a maximum of 100Mhz bandwidth. Put simply, it means that this type of cable is now rather old and slow, so not many people would consider using it for new installations.

Cat 5e

Category 5e cable is an ‘enhanced’ version of Cat 5 cable. One of the main differences between Cat 5 cable and Cat 5e cable, is that more stringent testing standards were applied to Cat 5e cable with regards to crosstalk.

Basically, crosstalk is a type of disturbance caused by one wire’s signal affecting another wire’s signal. The Cat 5e cable is much better than the Cat 5 cable because there is much less crosstalk.

Also, Cat 5e cable can support 10/100 Mbps speeds, as well as 1000 mbps or 1gbps (known as Gigabit Ethernet). Cat 5e cable has a higher bandwidth rating the Cat 5 cable. It is the increased bandwidth of the Cat 5e cable that enables it to support Gigabit Ethernet.

As Cat 5e cable is completely backwards compatible, it can be used anywhere you would have used Cat 5 cable in the past.

These improvements to Cat 5e cabling, when compared to Cat 5, mean that you are much more likely to get faster speed out of Cat 5e cables.

Cat 6 & 6a

Slightly more expensive than Cat 5e cable, Cat 6 has been designed to better tackle the issue of crosstalk and can support 10 gigabit Ethernet.

Some Cat 6 cables use a spline in the wiring to separate the twisted wires from each other, which helps to reduce crosstalk. Others do not have the spline but must still meet the more stringent specifications required of Cat 6 cables.

Cat 6a cables have now also been released, which can achieve the 10 gigabit Ethernet using longer lengths than Cat 6. However, the Cat 6a cables are much thicker than Cat 6 cables and are more pricey.

It’s also worth noting that Cat 6 outlets aren’t compatible with Cat 5 or Cat 5e cables

Data Cable Installation

Which type of cable should we choose?

Which type of structured cabling you go for depends on a number of factors.

Cat 5 cable is now rarely used in new installations. Is it worth replacing your old Cat 5 cabling for something better? And if so, should you go for Cat 5e or Cat 6?

At this point, it’s worth remembering that your network speed is not your internet speed. However, within an office environment, you will be transferring large files and using Cat 5e or Cat 6 cables may make things quicker. However, your network will only run at the speed of your slowest device, so you will also need other gigabit-compatible hardware, otherwise your cables will make very little or no difference.

Whether or not you upgrade your Cat 5 cabling, will ultimately depend on cost.

For new data installations, you will probably only be choosing between Cat 5e or Cat 6 categories, as Cat 6a can be prohibitively expensive for many. Some people opt to ‘future proof’ new installations by going for Cat 6, as the cost isn’t significantly more. However, at the moment, some say that there isn’t much noticeable difference between using Cat 5e or Cat 6 cables.

All of these cables are all available in LSZH (Low Smoke Zero Halogen) versions suitable for schools, hospitals etc.

Want to know more about which data installation cable categories are right for your business? Get in touch today for a quote.

Tomlinson Longstaff Ltd is an electrical contractor based in Country Durham, north east England. We offer a wide range of electrical services including design, testing, installation and maintenance.