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Are All Ethernet Cables Created Equal?

As our need to consume larger chunks of digital content has escalated over the last ten years to a fevered pitch, ethernet cable manufacturers rapidly iterate on some of their best performing ethernet cables in order to provide access to content at the fastest speeds possible. The reality is that there are several products currently in use on the market that meet some but not all of our needs, resulting in network architects creating a patchwork of cables trying to address often times competing challenges. When we talk about the work horses in use today - Cat 5 cable variants and Cat 6 cable variants - the question then arises, what makes an Ethernet cable good or bad?

Can it Go the Distance?

One of the challenges in using copper data cables is that the signal is transmitted as electricity and therefore susceptible to signal degradation over long distances. Even the most basic fiber optic data cable has the most advanced copper data cable beat hands down in terms of transmission distance. Manufacturers have worked to make this a priority over the last few years. Cat 5 cables and Cat 5e cables can both transmit up to 1000 meters. Cat 6 cabling trades off speed for distance and distance for speed, with a range of roughly 55-100m, depending on speed achieved. Cat 6a cabling got a speed boost but maintained roughly the same transmission distance as its predecessor.

How Fast Can it Get There?

Cat 5 cabling never was able to achieve Gigabyte Ethernet speeds, maxing out at around 100 Mbps. This has made Cat 5 in general an obsolete product, succeeded by Cat 5e’s faster 1 Gbps.This along with a low price point and its ability to push data up to 100 meters at 100Mhz has made Cat 5e one of the most in use cables on the market.

Similarly, while Cat 6 cabling is able to reach up to 10Gbps, it can only do so up to about 55 meters and it handles signal interference only moderately well. It isn’t until Cat 6a was released, which can achieve 10 Gbps and transmit up to 100 meters, that the copper data cable truly starts to shine for industry and manufacturing applications.

Handling Signal Noise

Cat 5e and Cat 6a were both designed with copper data cabling susceptibility to crosstalk and signal noise in mind. Cat 5e is still flexible and at a lower price point than Cat 6a, but the latter is able to handle cross talk more effectively. Both types have variants on the market with different styles of shielding to address different network environments.

Unequal But Necessarily Different

Ultimately, the answer that we posed at the start of this article comes down to another question, and that is, “What challenges do you need to address when constructing your network?” At SANDirect, we can help you decide what sort of network you need to build, what speeds it needs to support, how far data musti travel, what price point you want to invest at, and how future-proof your network should be. Once we’ve answered these questions together, we can decide how best to bring your organization’s network to the next level.

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