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Ethernet Cabling DeMystified

If Cat-5, Cat-5e, and Cat-6 all sound like names for Kittens in the Army then this article is for you!

Trying to future-proof the wiring in your home or office these days is a common headache.  It’s the kind of thing you want to do only once, and not be opening up your walls and ceilings every few years to get upgrades.

In the old days it was easier.   You’d have installed a co-axial cable to distribute the audio and video signals to each room.  But now we must consider a future where you might have an IP (InternetProtocol) network server that will distribute TV over Cat5e or Cat6 Ethernet cable to internet-capable smart TV sets and stereo equipment.

First some definitions to clarify what’s been going on in the industry:

  • CAT5: Of the three types of ethernet cabling commonly used for network wiring, Category 5 is the most basic. Cat 5 cable is available in two varieties: Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP), the type widely used in the United States, and Screened Twisted Pair (SCTP), which has shielding to provide a measure of extra protection against interference, but is rarely used outside of Europe. Cables belonging to Category 5 are either solid or stranded: Solid Cat 5 is more rigid, and the better choice if data needs to be transmitted over a long distance, while Stranded Cat 5 is very flexible and most likely to be used as patch cable. Cat 5 cable can support 10 or 100 Mbps Ethernet, and has a capability of up to 100MHz.
  • CAT5e: Cat 5e (which stands for Category 5, enhanced) cable goes along the same lines as basic Cat 5, except that it fulfills higher standards of data transmission. While Cat 5 is common in existing cabling systems, Category 5e has almost entirely replaced it in new installations. Cat 5e can handle data transfer at 1000 Mbps, is suitable for Gigabit Ethernet, and experiences much lower levels of near-end crosstalk (NEXT) than Cat 5.
  • CAT6: Of the three cable categories, Category 6 is the most advanced and provides the best performance. Just like Cat 5 and Cat 5e, Category 6 cable is typically made up of four twisted pairs of copper wire, but its capabilities far exceed those of other cable types because of one particular structural difference: a longitudinal separator. This separator isolates each of the four pairs of twisted wire from the others, which reduces crosstalk, allows for faster data transfer, and gives Category 6 cable twice the bandwidth of Cat 5! Cat 6 cable is ideal for supporting 10 Gigabit Ethernet, and is able to operate at up to 250 MHz. Since technology and standards are constantly evolving, Cat 6 is the wisest choice of cable when taking any possible future updates to your network into consideration. Not only is Category 6 cable future-safe, it is also backward-compatible with any previously-existing Cat 5 and Cat 5e cabling found in older installations.

Most homes still present cabling challenges due to the different types of old and new equipment they contain.  It is still very common to need one or two co-ax cables along with two Cat5e or Cat6 cables to each room where you want both TV and internet access  As it happens, there is a relatively painless way to do this so called “multi-format” wiring….

“Structured cabling” seems to be growing in popularity, particularly in the US. The basic idea is that you lay a single cable that contains multiple cables: typically two co-ax and two Cat5e cables. This makes the installation simpler and helps people not to worry about whether they have picked the right mix. Adding one or two of these “siamese cables” to your planned Cat6 cable would give you more capacity and more flexibility at  an affordable cost.

It’s good to be an informed consumer but when it comes to actually doing this work, there is no question you should hire a pro.  Figuring out the best solution for your wiring needs is what Hal-Com does every day. Call our experts and save yourself the lesson in cabling solutions. At Hal-Com it gets done right the first time.

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