What’s the different between Category 5e, Category 6, and Category 6a copper cable; and what should I choose for my business?

November 23, 2022

There’s a simple answer, Cost and Speed.


Let’s start at the basics.

While Cat 5e (Category 5 enhanced) is the least expensive option, it is also the slowest. Coming in at a max of 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) and 100 MHz (Megahertz) data transfer speed. Proven and tested speeds are good up to 300 feet in length with this option, however, it leaves no room for growth in this ever-changing technology market.


Cat 6 cable can support up to 10 Gbps at 250 MHz with little interference. There is a small catch, and that is distance. The 10 gig speed is only certified and effective up to 164 feet. If you run the cable grater than 164 feet, you are still able to receive up to 5 Gbps making this option wildly popular and more qualified to handle a fast-paced network environment.


Cat 6a (Category 6 augmented) is the new and improved category 6 cable. Cat 6a still gives you speeds up to 10 Gbps, but with a longer cable installation option up to 300 feet and 500 MHz with the same functionality. While this is a more expensive option, cat 6a gives your company a barrier to obsolescence.


Should you consider Category 8?

Category 8 can support speeds of 25 Gbps or 40 Gbps. However, there are many limitations. Cat 8 has a maximum permanent link of 78 feet and a maximum channel length of 100 feet to support those speeds. You are able to run lengths up to 300 feet, however, it will only support 10 Gbps at this distance. With Category 8 cable, an intense design would be needed for your office space to include more intermediate distribution frames (IDF) than per the norm.


Helpful hints for cable selection:

Keep in mind, your selected cable will only be able to supply speeds that are compatible with your network components. In other words, a legacy model device will still only allow what it is capable of, even if you use a faster cable.

The takeaway is that for longevity purposes, Cat 6 or 6a is your best bet. CPC recommends Cat 6 in most environments, and when there is the need for more bandwidth (speed) Category 6a is the best choice.

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