How to Choose Between Cat 5, Cat 5e and Cat 6 Cables

Cat 5 vs Cat 5e and Cat 6 – The Need For Speed

As the world of digital networks expands into a seemingly near-infinite size, more and more questions arise over how data is transmitted.  People often hear terms such as Cat 5 and Cat 5e and wonder, is there any difference between the two besides just a letter?

There is a difference but to explain it requires us to look back and with technology, it’s imperative to look forward.  It is much more important to understand the difference between Cat 5e and Cat 6.

Speed has always been and will probably always be the most important characteristic of a network.  As users and technology generate more data more quickly, it will continue to become increasingly necessary to push that data through a physical pipeline like a network cable.  A single second in time is no different today than at any point in history so it is more important to make each one count.  Time is a limited resource so pushing as much data as possible during that given second is essential to keep up with data generation.

Network cabling serves as the physical transmission mechanism of the ones-and-zeros that make up computer binary logic.  These are transmitting electrical pulses at a mind-boggling rate of speed.  Cat 5 can send 100 million of these signals in a single second.  This is where the terms 100 Mbps and 100MHz come into play.  Each bit (electrical pulse) is transmitted down the cable and the cables are designed to allow 100,000,000 of these each second.  For many, this speed has been adequate for quite some time.   The expansion to Cat 5e increased the speed to a billion bits per second (gigabit), thereby extending the useful life of this technology.

Technology does not slow down and the growth of content transmission (think YouTube, 4K television, online video games, etc.) requires tremendous amounts of data to be transmitted.  In an office or in a factory, terabytes of information can be generated in a short period of time.  To ensure fast, real-time transmission one must pack more on-off signals into that same second of time in the same type of cable as before.  This is where Cat 6 becomes critical to the growing infrastructure of data transmission.

Cat 6 is designed to allow many more on-off signals to transmit over the same period.  In fact, it can handle up to 10 billion bits per second – 100 times more than Cat 5.  One way to think of this difference is that, if running at top speed, a file that would take 100 seconds to transfer over Cat 5 cable would only take 1 second over a Cat 6.  More data over the same period creates an efficiency that can handle the requirements of the most advanced technologies.

MISUMI is a leader in Cat 5e and Cat 6 cabling. If you need cabling that goes into an air-conditioned office or in the hot dirty manufacturing environment, explore the selection here.

About the Author

Pete Oleinik

Pete works as a Technical Sales Analyst for the Electronics department at MISUMI. He has over 35 years of experience in the manufacturing, automation, and telecommunications industry, and is not only familiar with electronic components but servo motors and machine tools as well.

7 thoughts on “How to Choose Between Cat 5, Cat 5e and Cat 6 Cables

  1. Interesting article, but in this day and age talking about Cat 6 seems a little bit old news. What about Cat 6a and Cat 7? They’ve been out for years.

    Cat 5 and 5e should really be retired tech as Cat 6 is so much better and only nominally more expensive. The discussion should be around Cat 6 vs the newer standards.

  2. Awesome articles. Perfect length and not high tech language. Dont have to be an engineer to grasp the concept

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