Despite Category 5e and Category 6 (Cat5e and Cat6) technologies having been around for decades, this remains a commonly asked question and generates a degree of confusion! We already know that both Cat5e and Cat6 ethernet patch cables are terminated with RJ45 connectors at both ends. Apart from being more expensive to purchase, little is still known about their underlying differences.
Cat6 is around 25-30% more expensive than a Cat5e equivalent patch cable in the UK market place. The noticeable difference between a Cat5e and Cat6 patch cable is its diameter. Cat6 patch cables are thicker in construction. This is because the 4x copper pairs have a tighter twist, hence using more raw material, resulting in a higher cost price.
A Cat6 installation reduces both noise and crosstalk between the copper pairs due to a plastic spline inside the cable that separates the 4x pairs of copper. This then provides lower interference and fewer errors, with an improved return loss. However, Cat6 Patch cables are usually 24AWG and tend not to include that plastic spline that you would find in the structured solid cable, therefore being more malleable for quick and easy patching.
Cat5e patch cables are tested to 100MHz, whereas Cat6 patch cables must pass a test to at least 250MHz, hence providing an enhanced solution. We have frequently seen Cat6 installations transmitting speeds of up to 10 Gigabit, when you would normally only expect to see this on a Cat6a network backbone.
If you have a Cat5e structured cabling installation, then there is no benefit in using a Cat6 patch cable. However, if you have a Cat6 installation, then a Cat6 patch cable will be needed to maintain the required end to end performance of the installed cabling system.
Product Development Manager, Patchsave Solutions Limited