If you are reading this article, then you are the beneficiary of Cat5e and Cat6 cables. Although these cables are used for a variety of purposes, they are most commonly used as network cables, i.e. they connect computers and servers to modems and (ultimately) ISPs. Like virtually everything else in the technology sector, these cables have undergone significant development over the years, and the newest cables are capable of significantly greater performance than previous cables. The difference between a Cat5e and the more modern Cat6 cable is not only higher speeds but reduced “crosstalk”.
Cat6 cables, also called Category 6 or Cat 6 cables, provide lower crosstalk, a higher signal-to-noise ratio, and are suitable for 10GBASE-T (10-Gigabit Ethernet), while Cat5e cables support only up to 1000BASE-T (Gigabit Ethernet). As a means of future-proofing your network, Cat6 is generally a better choice and worth the small premium in price. Cat5e and Cat6 cables are both backwards compatible, which means newer Cat6 cables can be used with older Cat5e, Cat5 and even Cat3 equipment.
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Cat5E cable (which stands for “Cat5 Enhanced”) became the standard cable about 15 years ago, and offers significant improved performance over the old Cat5 cable, including up to 10 times faster speeds and a significant greater ability to traverse distances without being impacted by crosstalk.
Cat6 cables have been around for only a few years less than Cat5E cables. However, they have primarily been used as the backbone to networks, instead of being run to workstations themselves. The reason for this (beyond cost) is the fact that, while Cat6 cables can handle up to 10 Gigabits of data, that bandwidth is limited to 164 feet — anything beyond that will rapidly decay to only 1 Gigabit (the same as Cat5E).
Cat6A is the newest iteration and utilizes an exceptionally thick plastic casing that helps further reduce crosstalk. The biggest distinguishing difference between Cat6 and Cat6A cables is that Cat6A can maintain 10 Gigabit speeds for the full 328 feet of Ethernet cable.
Ultimately, those who want to have the most “future proofed” cable will want to go with Cat6A. However, for most resident and commercial purposes, Cat5E and Cat6 cables should be more than sufficient.