27 Jan 2009

CAT5e Cabling or CAT6a Cabling?

If you’ve been planning to install, upgrade, or extend the computer network in your home or office, you’ve probably been working with a data cabling engineer to help you work out what you will need. You’ve also probably been wondering why it would really need a specialist to lay down what looks just like fancy electrical wiring. Look at it from the point of view, that if the cabling doesn’t work, the network doesn’t work!

Choosing the right cable category

Using the right network cabling allows your network to send and receive data near the maximum speed that your data connections allow. If you have more than one computer or data device, using the right computer cabling will allow your machines to communicate as efficiently as possible.

You and the cabling service engineer have 4 options to choose from when it comes to the most up-to-date standards of data cabling: Category 5e, Category 6, Category 6a and Fibre Optic. Lets leave Fibre Optic out of the equation for now. Your decision will mainly depend on your network data transmission speed, the data type you are transmitting, and your requirements for speed and efficiency of data transfer.

Category 5 and 5e cables

The original Category 5 (CAT5) cables consist of 4 pairs of twisting copper wiring. They are rated at transmitting signals of up to 100 MHz. They were originally rated for use in Ethernet networks running at 100 Mbit/s. Newer Gigabit (or 1000BASE-T) Ethernets were designed to work with CAT5 cables as well.

In 2001, Category 5e (CAT5e) cables were introduced. These cables are basically the same as CAT5 cables except that there is less data signal loss. This data loss comes from electrical interference (called crosstalk) coming from neighbouring wire pairs, other nearby electrical wiring, or the devices the cable was attached to.

Category 6 and 6a cables

In 2008, a new standard for data cabling was established: Category 6. These are essentially the same as CAT5/5e cables except that they transmit at frequencies of up to 350 MHz. This allows for greater data transmission speed; up to 10 Gbit/s! An upgraded version soon came out with Augmented Category 6 (CAT6a) cables, which are able to operate at 550 MHz, doubling the efficiency of data transmission of CAT6 cables. CAT6/6a cables are also required to produce less crosstalk than CAT5/5e cables, meaning less data loss and less reduction in transmission speed. CAT6 cables are also back-compatible with CAT5/5e cables.

So what do you get?

Your choice of cables will really depend on your Ethernet network. If you’ll be or you are running a 10GBASE-T Ethernet network, CAT6a cables will be just the ticket. If your Ethernet is 100BASE-T or 100BASE-TX, CAT5e cables will probably be sufficient. If you’re on a 1000BASE-T network, you can go either way, providing you use the best quality cable & ends. If speed is of the essence, CAT6a cables are on top of your list.

Other considerations will include the layout of your equipment, the design of your home or office, and structures within your building. Confusing yes? Well that’s where the services of a data cabling engineer will come in. If you need one in Central/Greater London or the surrounding Home Counties, I’m just a ring away.



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