Breaking Down the Choices Cat5, Cat5e, and Cat6: Which is Right for your Company?

You’re planning on implementing network cabling in your new or existing location and you’re not totally sure which type of cable is correct for you. What does Cat5e or Cat6 even mean? What’s the best option and why do you even care as long as you can read/respond to your emails and pick up your phone calls? 

‘Cat’ stands for Category so when you see Cat5, Cat5e, or Cat6 what it stands for is Category 5 cable. Cat5, Cat5e, and Cat6 cable is essentially a twisted pair cable used to carry signals. This type of cable is used in structured cabling for both commercial and residential computer (data and voice) networks like Ethernet.

Cat5 cable allows your computer network to handle anywhere from 10Mbps to 100Mbps throughput. As you might have guessed Cat5e is the new, upgraded version of Cat5. Cat5e allows your data network to handle a Gigabit Ethernet connection. Most importantly for those of you with an existing network infrastructure in place Cat5e is backwards compatible so it supports all the same cat5 network cabling. It’s important to mention that the industry standard has become Cat5e cabling.

Now as for Cat6 cable! Cat5e cable will allow Gigabit Ethernet speeds however Cat6 is certified to conduct those higher seamless speeds. Cat6 cable reaches much higher throughput in high-demand offices. Throughout the last few years we’ve seen many clients and customers upgrade or opt for Cat6 cable over Cat5e. One of the most frequent concerns we hear is regarding the price of Cat6 cable and wether or not your company really needs Gigabit throughput. 

In order to correctly answer your questions we need to know a little bit more about your network:
  1. Does your company make use of an internal server or NAS devices (Network Attached Storage)?
  2. Do you host large databases, database files, or do your users transfer large files?
  3. Does your company only utilize your network cabling / connection for internet browsing (such as: email related tasks / basic web use)?
  4. Does your company use or plan on using a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) Phone System PBX?
The industry standard is beginning to adopt and utilize T-1 internet connections for even average to small businesses generally from internet service providers like Cox Communications (in Orange County), AT&T, & Verizon. T-1 links are generally provide 1.5Mbps. If the bulk majority of your network usage is going to be internet browsing, the 100Mbps provided by Cat5e cable won’t slow down your data network.

Some might tell you that if your company is utilizing a VoIP (Voice over IP) phone system PBX you need to use all Cat6 cable wiring for your network. However, a voice conversation uses about 64kb on a network connection; Cat5e cable supports 100Mbps so if you do the math your Cat5e network can handle over 1,500 concurrent VoIP conversations.

What does IGT recommend?

What we’ve found is that unless you’re transferring very large files internally, cat5e cable has the capacity and effectiveness to handle both your internet browsing and your VoIP PBX phone systems. When you compare Cat5e and Cat6 side by side, for most companies Cat5e provides the same functionality and is also the most cost effective solution. However there are cases and projects where Cat6 is the recommended choice. Usually in projects where the company has high internal usage (such as transferring large documents, files, images, videos) or high demand databases or applications hosted on a local server.