The advent of the internet has forever changed the meaning of connectivity and communication. In today’s age of information, to say that the bandwidth and quality of your network could mean the difference between profit and loss would be an understatement. Apart from that, the internet has taken the idea of entertainment to new horizons but of course you cannot have that without a strong connection. For business reasons or in personal interest, the ethernet cables you choose for yourself is either where your problems start or where the magic happens.
What's with all the categories?
Technically speaking “ethernet” is just a protocol that defines the way digital information travels across a medium. In the world of IT this information is in the form of bits which constitute millions of zeros and ones transmitting through a particular category of cable. This cable has an internal design which supports the said ethernet protocol hence providing a medium for transferring gigantic amounts of data in a matter of milliseconds.
In simple terms when you are referring to category cables you are talking about cat5e, cat6 or cat6a ethernet cables. As for Cat1 up to cat5, they have been obsolete since long and cat5 is not recognised by the TIA/EIA so you definitely don’t want that.
Of course they differ in specs and their performance varies from model to model but doing a bit of homework can save you proverbial gbs worth of time and money. So let's see what the in-demand categories are all about?
With a bandwidth reaching out to 100 Mhz and a performance of up to 350 MHz the cat5 stands in the league of fast ethernet cable. Its bound to maximize efficiency and ensure seamless connection second to none. While the twisted pairs within the cable is the same as cat 5, it is ten times ahead of its predecessor as it can stretch its transmission speed to 1000 Mbps.
Thanks to something called 'backward compatibility', all cat5e ethernet cables can be hooked up with any 10BaseT (ethernet) or 100BaseT(fast ethernet) networking cards and hubs. The performance capacity of your NIC, short for network interface card, can crank upto 100 Megabits per second. No worries if you're on a 10Base-T,NIC which supports 10 Mbps, because compatibility is not an issue. In short you can upgrade to our superior quality cables for all of the performance benefits they bring with them whilst operating on your same old trustee equipment without having to switch.
When setting up a network system, the wires getting damaged is a common mishap. You don't have to be a technical person to know that's bad news. However, if you're equipped with cat5e patch cables then you don't have to worry about snags in your cable. Cat5e patch cables carry 4 UTP 24 AWG pure copper wire strands in an elegant CMR rated PVC jacket. This not only ensures exceptional durability but a convenient cushion of flexibility, which is great news if you're not a fan of working in a spiderweb of cables and have some aesthetic sense.
Lastly, the cat5 ethernet cables terminate at a state of the art connector called RJ-45. Embedded with 50 Micron Gold plates the RJ-45 can endure a fair amount of strain preventing sangs or the like during installation and later on. Moreover, the gold plates in RJ-45 connector ensure that corrosion is no longer a concern.
The cat6 ethernet cable establishes over the cat 5e but substantially improves upon the shortcomings of its parent.
New and Improved
Cat6 ethernet cables come with a whopping 250 Mhz of performance and a transfer rate of 10,000 Mbps under ideal conditions. However, after the 55 meter mark the speed decreases and it steadily provides 1000 Mbps. With the cat6 patch cables you can support virtually any bandwidth hungry device you dare to pick. Of Course the backwards compatibility ensures that all 10BaseT or 100BaseT network cards and hubs should not be a limiting factor for our users. Both cat6 and cat5 ethernet cables utilize the same end piece. By "end" we mean that both cables terminate at an RJ45 connector, and it can be plugged into any ethernet jack on a computer, router, PoE switch, or other devices.
Each and every cable is instilled with four superior quality UTP of 24 AWG stranded copper, coated with the time tested CMT certified PVC jacket. The UTP wires are integrated within the cat6 ethernet cables so as to reduce any crosstalk that is likely to occur which in itself significantly increases data transmission. Truly the cat6 takes signal quality and ethernet cable speed to a whole new level.
The RJ45 connectors are a top-notch finish to the cat6. Carrying the premium 50 micron gold plated contacts the RJ45 is not only corrosion-free but is also made to resist wear and tear for years.
A BUNDLE OF VERSATILITY
The cat6 has met the technical and physical demands of a wide range of applications. Depending on where they are needed, you can either utilize the unshielded version which eliminates crosstalk within the cable or the shielded Cat6 which is the perfect solution for electromagnetic interference (EMI).
The cable also gives the provision of choosing between stranded and unstranded versions. Therefore, stranded cable is more flexible and can endure a considerable amount of movement and strain. As for the unstranded or solid cable, it's more suitable in places of permanent installations.
The cat5e is wallet-friendly, cat6 gets the job done but cat6a is the ultimate solution. If you're looking for ingenuity, robustness and efficiency all wrapped in one bundle then cat6a should be your cable of choice. The 'a' in cat6a stands for 'augmented' and the standard was revised by TIA in 20018.
Connect like Never Before:
With a surreal transmission speed of 10 gigs per second and a max bandwidth all the way up to 500 Mhz, twice that of cat6, the Cat6a sets the standard of ethernet cable speed at nothing less than lightning fast.
Apart from eliminating the usual internal crosstalk, cat6a ethernet cables also rid your network of a nuisance called 'alien crosstalk'. In layman terms alien crosstalk is simply one cable interfering with another nearby cable. Since the interference is coming from an outside source we refer to it as alien crosstalk.
The constituent components and the terminating connectors of the cat6a patch cables are heavy duty which means its designed to handle patch panels, wall jacks and devices of high-end specifications. Ofcourse achieving such high standards drives up the manufacturing price. That being said, having the luxury of thicker copper conductors and jackets means you can have more than just a stable network. So at the end of the day, the cat6a is worth every dime.
Which should I go for?
To narrow down your choices let's compare these cables by putting them against each other.
The most noticeable differing trait between the two is thickness of their conducting copper wire. In more technical terms this would be their AWG number, which increases as the copper grows thinner. Cat5e ethernet cables typically support 2.5GBASE-T Ethernet up to a distance of 100 meters whereas Cat6 supports 5GBASE-T Ethernet up to a distance of 328 feet. The distinguishing feature where cat6 takes one up on cat5 is its capability to support 10 gigabits of network speed at an approx. distance of 55 meters. However, this bonus is sustainable under ideal conditions where alien crosstalk is considerably low.
If you cut open both Cat5e and Cat6 you’ll notice that the latter contains a plastic piece in the center which separates the four 23 AWG conducting pairs. This humble component is called a “spline” but it goes a long way in minimizing crosstalk. The spline is part of the Cat6 standard but it is typically not available in cat5e which is why they are far more flexible than cat6. Check out this comprehensive video to get more info on the difference between these two ethernet cables.
Is one better than the other?
It all comes down to your requirements. Cat5e ethernet cables may not have the additional spline but they’re flexible and easy to install in tight spots. Its termination is also less complex than that of cat6. Cat6 patch cables however take the technical edge especially in terms of transmission speed and the insulating spline.It is also the better choice for applications which utilize Power over Ethernet (PoE), as its thicker copper conductors allow for better heat dissipation. That of course will cost you more in contrast to Cat5 which, nonetheless, can establish a decent network.
Cat6 vs Cat6a
What the cat6 achieves in ideal conditions, 10 gigs per sec upto 55 meters ( 33 meters incase of high AXT potential), the cat6a ethernet cable can handle in routine for upto a 100 meters. Its speed is also twice more than cat6. Cat6A cables are also designed to withstand higher tolerances than Cat6. Which means the copper conductors within are tightly wound around each other more than in cat6.
There is really no technological comparison between the two. Cat6a is simply next gen when you put it against cat6. However, it not only stretches your budget but demands a lot of upgrades. You will need higher performance switches and additional networking hardware that can actually support 10 Gbp/s speed. A single piece of network infrastructure, like cable, cannot be upgraded to Cat6A specification and give you faster speeds until you upgrade your entire network infrastructure. The increased thickness of the constituent UTP copper conductors and sophisticated termination require professional handling during installation and that kind of labor isn’t usually on the house. So unless you don’t absolutely require it, you should choose cat6 over cat6a. With that being said cat6a nails performance in every aspect. There’s more on the topic of cat6 vs cat6a here.