The Difference Between Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6a Cabling

Posted by Travis Gaerke on

To determine which cabling option is right for your network’s current and future needs, read our guide on the difference between Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6a cabling.

Choosing the right cable option for your network’s infrastructure, you need to know the difference between category cables. While your networking gear will ultimately define the speed of your operation, your cabling must be able to keep up. The three main cabling types are Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6a, which each offer distinct capabilities. To determine which option is right for your network’s current and future needs, read our guide on the difference between Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6a cabling.


Cat5e cables are an enhanced version of the legacy Cat5 cables and the oldest cabling category on this list. They are also the least expensive. Cat5e cables were the first cabling type to deliver 1 Gigabit network speed, which today is the minimum someone should consider for their network. Typically, Cat5e cables consist of 24 gauge twisted pair wires and offer gigabit ethernet up to 328 feet. The MHz of Cat5e cables rates at 100, which means the CPU can process up to 100 million commands in a single second. Cat5e cables have suitable capabilities for most networks; however, they may not be able to keep your networking setup at high-performance levels as service providers continue to offer higher speeds.


Cat6 cables offer Gigabit Ethernet up to 100 meters and typically utilize a 23-gauge conductor which equates to around 0.0226 inches in diameter per wire. Cat6 cables are the current standard in cabling for high-speed Ethernet networks as they can support the speed required by the 10 Gigabit network. However, they have a limited higher standard support (164 feet), after which the ultimate speed distance of Cat6 cables is the same as Cat5e cables. At a frequency bandwidth of 250MHz, Cat6 cables offer a far greater processing speed than Cat5 cables. Additional performance advantages include reduced signal loss, less crosstalk with other cables, and two-way communication on each pair of wires due to a tighter twist in the cables. Due to their additional capabilities, Cat6 cables typically cost around 30 percent more than Cat5e cables.


Cat6a is an augmented version of the first generation Cat6 cables and the most advanced Ethernet cable on this list. Like Cat 6 cables, Cat 6a cables are also 23 gauge. However, they are substantially thicker than Cat 6 cables due to the tighter winding of the wires. This creates more copper per inch as well as the layer of extra-thick plastic around the wires themselves. Compared to Cat 5e and Cat 6 cables, Cat 6a cables offer less cross talk, less signal loss, and a larger frequency bandwidth of 500 MHz—double that of Cat6 cables. Due to their impeccably fast processing speeds, they are an ideal choice for businesses. Although Cat6a cables offer the same 10 Gigabit ethernet speed per second as Cat6 cables, they can maintain such speed at a far greater distance of up to 330 feet. Due to the higher speeds and functionality of Cat6a cabling, the price is significantly greater than Cat5e and Cat6 cabling.

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