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People who want to install a home network have to decide whether to purchase bulk cat6 or cat5e cables for Gigabit Ethernet. If you are planning to install a local area network (LAN) for home or office use, or have an existing network that needs upgrading to Gigabit Ethernet, you may as well look at the pros and cons of using cat6 or cat5e bulk cables for network cabling.
At a quick glance, cat6 cables, being the newer Ethernet standard, may look appealing. However, if you factor in the cost and weigh the advantage of one Ethernet cable standard over the other, you will be in a better position to make an informed choice.
Ethernet cables are standardized into different categories. If you have an old network running in your home or office that is several years old, the system is most probably wired with cat5 or category 5 cables.
Cat5 bulk cables were used as the backbone of LAN networks with a standard performance of 100MHz, which is suitable for Ethernet and Fast Ethernet (100BASE-TX) that provides a data transfer speed of up to 1000 Mbps. Cat 5 Ethernet cables consist of four twisted pairs of copper wire that terminate at both ends with an RJ45 connector. The cat5 cable standard has been superseded by cat5e, meaning category 5 enhanced cables.
The cat5e cable standard is similar physically with cat5, but there are definite advantages to this cable standard for network support, quality of signals, and bandwidth support. Cat5e supports Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, and Gigabit Ethernet (GbE), and has been greatly improved to reduce crosstalk, which is the electrical interference networks experience when the wire signals affect the signals from another set of wires. The bandwidth, which is the information carrying capacity of the network system, has been improved for cat5e and is rated at 350MHz. The increase in bandwidth means a greater capacity in carrying information that allows cat5e to support Gigabit Ethernet.
Since cat5e is backward compatible with cat5, you have the option of rewiring your whole LAN with cat5e, or using cat5e to expand the network, leaving the old cat5 cabling in place. However, it is advisable to replace the older cables with cat5e to enjoy the full advantage of being wired for GbE. At a cost of about $40 for every 1000 ft cat5e, cabling your whole network will not cost much when you purchase new cables in bulk, but can involve some work if some of your old cables were installed under floorboards or behind walls.
Category 6 or cat6 cables are a step up from cat5e with lower crosstalk, supports 10-Gigabit Ethernet, and has a higher signal-to-noise ratio. Cat6 cables, like cat5e, are also backward compatible, which means you can install it with older cables and use it with existing network devices that are Ethernet-ready but not necessarily built in Gigabit Ethernet. Like cat5e, cat6 have four twisted pairs of copper wires in each cable, but with an additional component for reducing crosstalk and system noise. Each cat6 cable has a spline or a longitudinal separator in the wiring to isolate each of the twisted wire pairs, making them more rigid and harder to install.
Many believe that it is to advantage of users to use bulk cat6 Ethernet cables when putting up a new network. It will put your network ready for future advances in Ethernet and networking standards. It will be more practical to spend the additional cost of putting up cat6 cables and having a system with a higher capability now when you are planning to put up a network or upgrading your existing one. Though you will not necessarily reap all the advantages of being wired for 10-Gigabit Ethernet now, you will have a system that is ready to take on future technology advances.
The cost difference between cat5e and cat6 cables are quite substantial, since 1000 ft cat6, stranded and unshielded, costs more than $120 for bulk purchase, compared with the $40 for the same length of cat5e. Cat6 cables are twisted more tightly with the spline or additional insulation, so cutting and installing these cables will require more work. However, if you want to be ready for the future and willing to take on the additional cost of materials and cabling work, then it is advisable to go for cat6 cabling.
Cat5e cables provide data transfer speed of 1000Mbps, and if you have an Internet connection, this speed is still way above Internet speeds that run about 50 to 100 Mbps. Thus, changing from cat5e to cat6 cables will not have any impact on your Internet speeds. However, if you transfer plenty of data within your local network, the shift from cat5/cat5e to cat6 will definitely increase your productivity. However, if you do not encounter any issues with your network speeds with your current cat5e network cabling, you can leave the cat5e cables for a few more years and use cat6 cables for network expansion.
When putting up a new network or upgrading an existing one, you also have to look at the Ethernet capability of other network devices, for example routers and switches. In home networks, the router links the computer to the Internet through the WAN (Wide Area Network) port and has other ports for connecting other network devices like PCs and a printer. The router acts as a dispatcher that looks for the best path for transmitting information the fastest way. If you need more than the four LAN ports in your router, you can install a switch or a hub in your network to increase the number of the LAN ports.
When upgrading to cat6 cables, you should also upgrade the router and the other devices connected to the network to Gigabit Ethernet. Having your cables upgraded while the other devices in the network remain at Ethernet or Fast Ethernet standards will give you lower speeds because the device that has the lowest Ethernet standard sets the speed of data transfer.
Upgrading to a gigabit network with bulk cat6 cables will considerably increase the speed of your network, and will make your system ready to handle further advances in Ethernet technology.