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Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6A: Which Ethernet Cabling Solution is Best for You

Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6A: Which Ethernet Cabling Solution is Best for You

One of the most common questions regarding Ethernet cabling is: What type of cabling should I choose? There is much confusion on this topic. When choosing the right cabling solution for your particular network infrastructure, you need to know the difference between the different cable categories. The purpose of this article is to help you determine which type of Ethernet cabling suits your needs.

All three cable types use an RJ45 end, similar to a telephone jack, only slightly wider. This means that the cables simply plug into the same Ethernet jack on your computers, routers, and switches. However, each cable category option has quite different specifications. More about that later. First, let’s compare the costs of these three cable types.

What about cost?

Probably the most significant difference between Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6A cabling is the price, and price is often the biggest consideration when deciding which Ethernet cabling to purchase. Cat5e is the least expensive of the three. Cat6 is approximately 30 percent more costly than Cat5e, while Cat6A is in the range of 30 percent more expensive than Cat6. This means, if your Cat5e cabling job costs $10,000, then Cat6 cabling for the same job will cost $13,000, and Cat6A will cost $16,900.

There are a couple of other cost considerations when purchasing Ethernet cabling:

  1. Plenum costs about 30 percent more than non-plenum.
  2. Shielded cable (STP) is roughly 30 to 40 percent more expensive than unshielded cabling (UTP).

Of course, price is not the only factor to consider when choosing what category of Ethernet cabling to buy. Let’s break down each type of cabling to help you determine which is the best option for your network, for now, and for the future.

Ethernet Cabling Cost Comparison


Category 5e is a high-speed enhanced version of legacy Cat5 cables and has been in use for 20 years. Cat5e cables were the first to deliver one Gigabit of network speed, which in most expert’s opinion is the least amount of speed that should be considered. If most of your network is cloud-based, Cat5e cabling may be sufficient—for the present. Cat 5e cables are typically:

  • Made up of 24-gauge twisted pair wires
  • Produces one Gigabit of network speed
  • Offers Ethernet up to 328 feet
  • Is rated and measured at 100MHz (which means the CPU can process up to 100 million commands a second)

Cat5e tends to have a slightly higher delay and skew than either Cat6 and Cat6A cabling. This means that Cat5e can give the appearance of being slower.


Category 6 cables are the current cabling standard for high-speed Ethernet networks. Cat6 cables provide the following:

  • 23-gauge twisted pair wires
  • 10 Gigabits of network speed
  • Offers this high speed up to 164 feet—for distances over 164 feet, delivers speeds at the same rate as Cat5e cabling
  • Is rated and measured at a bandwidth of 250MHz

Additionally, Cat6 offers enhanced performance levels compared to Cat5e: e.g., a tighter twist in the cables that allow for two-way communication, signal loss reduction, and less cross-talk.


The “a” in category 6A cabling stands for augmented. These cables deliver warp speeds and are used for 10G networks or when high bandwidth speeds are needed. Further, Cat6A cables are thicker than Cat6 cables as they have a thick plastic around the wires and because the pairs have a tighter twist. This provides more copper per inch, which results in less cross-talk and less signal loss.

Cat6A Ethernet cables offer the following:

  • 23-gauge twisted pair wires
  • 10 Gigabits of network speed
  • Provides Ethernet up to 330 feet
  • Is rated and measured at a bandwidth of 500MHz

Cat6A offers double the speed and distance of Cat6, which makes it an ideal cabling choice for businesses.

Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a Comparison Chart

A Quick Word About Cat7 and Cat8


Cat7, although somewhat comparable to Cat6A, is not considered to be a good cabling choice. According to Massachusetts-based cabling company Cable Matters:

“. . . Cat7 specification is a proprietary standard developed by a group of companies. It is not an IEEE standard and is not approved by TIA/EIA. Cat7 cables don’t use the traditional RJ-45 Ethernet header (technically known as an 8P8C connector). The GG45 connector that is used instead is proprietary. Despite its backward compatibility with RJ45, these connectors are hard to come by. Cat7 cables are also compatible with the TERA connector, although that has also seen very little use in the industry.”1


Cat8 is the fastest Ethernet cable to date. It has the following features:

  • 23-gauge twisted pair wires
  • 40 Gigabits of network speed
  • Provides Ethernet up to 98 feet
  • Is rated and measured at a bandwidth of 2000MHz

Cat 8 is designed for high-speed switch to switch communication in data centers or server rooms with 25GBase-T or 40GBase-T networks.

To Sum Up

First, it is important to note that each cabling category’s transmission speeds are hypothetical and depend on all components to perform at the maximum speeds. For instance, you will never get an optimum speed using a legacy device that is not capable of attaining Gigabit speeds.

Cat 5e is the least expensive cabling option; however, it is also the slowest. It is certain that Cat5e can perform well for most of today’s applications, especially if your network is cloud-based—but leaves less opportunity to upgrade in the future.

If you need speed, Cat6 and Cat6A is your best choice of cabling. Cat6 does not provide the distance that Cat6A does; however, it is the less expensive choice. Also, choosing either Cat6 or Cat6A will help future-proof your network for at least a few years. Unless you have a 25G or 45G network, Cat 6 or Cat6A cables will be plenty fast enough for most situations.

Find out more about Versa’s Power over Ethernet technology.

1: Cable Matters: What is Cat7—and why you don’t need it.