Comparing Network Cable: Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6a Briefly Explained

As the capabilities of our connected devices improves, the cabling used needs to meet our present needs while being mindful of the demands of future devices. Network cable installed throughout an office, home or other structure is typically thought to be semi-permanent because in many cases it is installed behind walls, above ceiling tiles, or in some other inconveniently accessed space.

Presently, Cable Matters carries 3 categories of network cable: Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6a. While you come across some other categories of cable we specifically selected these types for the following reasons:

  1. All 3 meet the bandwidth requirements for compatibility with a broad array of devices
  2. A variety of options are available depending on a customer’s price sensitivity
  3. They cover a wide range of performance standards to meet installation requirements

Below is a brief summary for the benefits of each.


Cat 5e has been around for 15+ years and is the oldest standard still used of the 3. Able to max at Gigabit per second speed (1 Gbps) at up 350 MHz, Cat5e cables are not ideal for business class networks. The cable itself is very flexible and is a very cost effective solution for connecting devices in a small home network. An ideal application for this cable is connecting a laptop to home cable modem.


Cat6 is arguably the most broadly used of the 3 cable types. It supports a higher bandwidth than Cat 5e at 550 MHz and is suitable for up to 10-Gigabit Ethernet networks. Cat6 has a tighter twist in the wiring within the cable to support this increased bandwidth capability and is a great choice for multimedia applications, such as extending a video signal a long distance. Because the transmission performance is better than Cat5e there is less signal loss and it does not pick up as much crosstalk (unwanted transfer of signals between communication channels). This makes it a great fit for the majority of business networks.

Cat 6a

The biggest gain in using Cat6a is distance. Cat6 can handle a max speed of 10 Gbps over 33-55 meters (110-165 feet) of cable. In comparison, Cat6a can do 10 Gbps over 100 meters (330 feet) of cable. Additionally, all our Cat6a cable are shielded (SSTP/SFTP) with an aluminum screen and foil shield. This is especially useful in environments that produce a large amount of EMI (Electro-Magnetic Interference). The shielding helps to protect the data within the cable from EMI which results in better transmission performance.

There are a couple of important considerations when using Cat6a. The first is that the cable is thicker than Cat 5e or Cat6 which may make it more cumbersome to install in narrower channels. Additionally, because the cable is thicker and the Cat6a cable we sell is shielded, the cable is not a flexible as Cat 5e or Cat6. This means that when installing you should be cautious of creating tight bends with the cable as to not damage the cable or reduce performance.

Another consideration is using the correct parts. With mpst shielded cable the shielding is tied together via a "drain wire". This wire serves as a path for the EMI to travel so that it does not interfere with the signal within the cable. It can only perform it’s job correctly if it is grounded, otherwise the shielding will act as an antenna of sorts that will attract interfering signal without diffusing them. When setting up a network with Cat6a Shielded cable make sure to use shielded keystone jacks (the RJ45 jacks that are used in wall plates), couplers, and patch panels.

This is a broad overview designed to provide guidance in selecting the correct type of cable for your application. If you have further questions about our products or their use with your configuration please contact us at

Article ID: 47
Last updated: 15 Feb, 2016
Revision: 1
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