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CAT 5 Cable

[Q] What is CAT 5 Cable?

[A] There are various types of twisted-pair cable, such as Cat 5, Cat 5e, Cat 6, that are all ethernet cable. Ethernet is a type of networking technology, and many different types of cable have been developed over the years, each have unique properties that define how much signal it can carry, and what kind of transmission distance limitations it will have.

For the purposes of this discussion we will only be discussing cable types in common usage for commercial and residential applications.

There have been a great number of arguments made over the development and improvement this type of cable, as many technology companies have tried to influence the design and transmission specifications to suit their specific equipment needs.

The following is a brief history of the development of some key types of ethernet cable over the past 20 years:

10base5 - The original "full spec" cable. An Ethernet cabling specification operating at 10 Megabits Per Second. Maximum single cable length of 500 meters. Normally carried on RG8 large diameter coaxial cable. The outer sheath is usually yellow, and the cable was often referred to as "yellow cable" for this reason.

10base2 - Also known as "thinnet". This variant of Ethernet uses thin coaxial cable, RG-58 or similar, and operates at 10 Megabits Per Second. A single cable can have a maximum length of 200 meters.

10baseT - A variant of Ethernet that allows connectivity between devices using twister pair cable. Twisted pair cable will contain (usually 4) pairs of wires that are each twisted at a slightly different ratio than the other pairs. This is done to reduce the effects of cross-talk. Cross talk is when the signal in one pair of wires has an unwanted effect on other wires within the same cable.

100baseT - A variant of Ethernet that was developed in the late 1980's to early 1990's. This is Unshielded Twisted Pair cable, and can carry a 100 Megabit Per Second signal. Any of several standards apply, such as 100BaseTx, that is,100 Megabits Per Second over 2 pair Cat5 or better cable. There is 100BaseT4, 100 Megabits Per Second over 4 pair Cat3 or better cable.

Unshielded Twisted Pair cable has continued to develop, eventually producing Cat 5e cable (enhanced), and Cat 6 cable as well. Understanding the basic 3 types of UTP (Unshielded Twisted Pair) cable is really a matter of basics:

Cat5 - A twisted pair cable (typically 4 pairs) designed to operate at speeds up to 100 Megabits Per Second.

Cat 5e - A twisted pair cable, with improvements to the transmission speed and twist ratio of the pairs. Designed for less cross talk between pairs, and allows transmission speeds up to 1 Gigabit Per Second. In order to achieve Gigabit Ethernet, this would be the minimum standard cable to use. Cat 5e cable is the choice for almost all new installations, including the use of patch and crossover cables. Because a good quality Cat 5e will operate at the same speed as Cat 6, most installers and end users alike are opting not to waste the extra money for Cat 6.

Cat 6 - A twisted pair cable, almost identical to Cat 5e. Specifically designed for Gigabit Ethernet. This cable is basically just a higher standard Cat 5e cable that will consistently deliver 1 Gigabit Ethernet. The other major difference in this cable is the plug. Even though it is still an RJ45 connection, (like cat 5 and cat 5e) the RJ45 plugs used in the construction of Cat 6 cables are slightly different from those used in Cat 5 or cat 5e. Many of the plugs have the pairs offset at any angle, as opposed to the Cat 5 and Cat 5e plugs that have all 8 wires side-by-side in the plug. No concern to the end user whatsoever. This is more of an observation to those who terminate these cables.

In short, Ethernet has evolved from using mainly large, bulky, coaxial style cables, to the modern twisted pair cables of Cat 5, Cat 5e, and Cat 6. Of the three, Cat 5e appears to be the peoples choice, based on the amount of Cat 5e cable being used in new installations, and in the production of patch cables and crossover cables being produced and sold. This is most likely due to the fact that as stated earlier, a quality Cat 5e cable product will operate at Gigabit speeds. It has shown to be very reliable, and because there is no real benefit to using Cat 6 cable in the same application. Cat 5e cable is also much less expensive than Cat 6, while giving about the same performance.

Another thing to keep in mind if you choose to use CAT 6 Cable over CAT 5E Cable, is the size of the cable itself.

All CAT 6 Cable will be slightly larger overall in diameter because the individual pairs within the outer jacket. In addition, many CAT 6 Cable material has a plastic seperator that runs the entire length of the cable, making it even larger and more rigid.

This will make a huge difference when you install the cable, and of course making Patch and Crossover Cables.

Of course, you will always want to consider the total scope of your project before deciding on a specific cable type. Always consult a professional if your are unsure what you will need.

CAT 5 Cable Company provides CAT 5 and CAT 5e patch and crossover cables for all networking applications in 9 colors, and any custom length. Hand assembled and 100% tested to ensure the finest quality.

RELATED FAQ QUESTION: What is a Patch Cable?

Keywords: patch cable, CAT 5, CAT 5e, CAT 6, ethernet

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