Why You Should Choose CAT6 Cable
We’ve come a long way since the days of coax cables running at a top speed of 10MB/sec. In some instances today, cables are not even required and everything can be done wirelessly. However, for most systems outside the family home, cabling is not only recommended, but generally necessary. In most existing structures, Category 5 (CAT5) cabling is the standard, but with the changing technology landscape, there is a strong case to be made for cabling all new systems with Category 6 (CAT6).
To lay down some basic numbers, CAT5 cable has a 100MHz rating, enabling it a speed of about 100MB per second. CAT5e is very similar, the ‘e’ standing for enhanced, and has a higher test tolerance. CAT6 cable can operate at up to 1GB per second, with a 1,000 MHz rating. Pricing for cables varies from different vendors, but the difference is usually no more than about 5 cents per foot. For example, 1,000 feet of CAT6 will only cost you $50 more than 1,000 feet of CAT5. CAT6 is also designed to be compatible with both CAT5 and CAT5e cabling, so when upgrading, you don’t have to replace everything at once.
Current trends show that data rates have been increasing by 200% every year and a half. This means that if your system has applications that are running at 1 GB per second, you are quickly approaching the limits of even CAT5e cabling. Think of it as doubling the lanes on the highway before the traffic jam occurs – you are simply planning for the future. And as multi-media and video applications become more mainstream, the need for speedy data rates will only go up.
The main selling point for CAT6 is its superb transmission performance. You can expect less near end crosstalk (NEXT), better insertion loss, and equal levels of far end crosstalk (ELFEXT). You will also have a better shield from external noise and generally fewer operating errors overall compared to CAT5 or CAT5e systems.
Of course, as with any system, the real artistry is in the install. You can have a poorly engineered CAT6 network floundering while a properly installed CAT5 system handles the same work load while humming along happily. When installing a new CAT6 system, the expense really comes in everything around the cable. You will want to have everything from your patch panels to your wall plates to your terminators should be of high rating. Otherwise you will find your system experiencing intermittent issues. Also, remember that with the tolerances being closer, you should be sure to hang the cables away from fluorescent lights. And use Velcro over tie wraps so the cable insulation isn’t pinched, which can cause higher levels of crosstalk and jitter.
With any new installation, definitely try to spring for CAT6 over CAT5e. With all the advances being made, it will give your system a shot at keeping up with future technology. For existing networks, use CAT6 whenever laying new cable, as it’s the first step toward an upgrade. You can also add new pieces of infrastructure over time – a switch here, a patch panel there – to slowly ready your infrastructure for an upgrade.