What's the Difference Between CAT5e and CAT6 Cable?

Posted on
Mar 6, 2023
ATSI Content Team
ATSI Content Team
Find me on:

The bandwidth and noise level of Ethernet cables varies significantly based on their type, with the CAT5e and CAT6 standards currently being the most common.

CAT6 cable has higher quality, but CAT5e has a lower cost. This post will compare these standards across several attributes, including bandwidth, crosstalk, length, and speed.


Category 5 Enhanced, also known as Category 5e and CAT5e, is a standard for unshielded cable that was ratified in 1999. The cables it uses are usually 24-gauge twisted pair wires, allowing CAT5e to support Gigabit networks at distances up to 100 m for each segment.

This standard provides a significant improvement over the previous CAT5 standard, with a speed that’s up to 10 times greater. CAT5e can also carry signals a greater distance without being affected by crosstalk.

Category 6, or CAT6, was ratified in 2001. It’s also a standard for twisted-pair cable and is backward compatible with CAT5 and CAT5e, among other cable standards. Like CAT5e, CAT6 supports segment lengths up to 100 meters for Gigabit networks, but CAT6 also supports 10-Gigabit networks over segment lengths of up to 55 meters without shielding.

CAT6 was originally used just for connecting routers and switches, but it has also become common for workstations since then.

The cable category is usually printed on the cable, which is the only definitive way to tell the difference between CAT5e and CAT6 cable. You may be able to distinguish between the two types by thickness if you’re very familiar with them since CAT6 cable uses thicker copper wires. The cable’s color and connector aren’t useful for identifying these cables.


CAT5e and CAT6 both support speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second or 1 Gbps. This specification is more than sufficient for home internet connections, which rarely have a speed that’s even half of that.

The primary difference between the two standards with respect to performance is bandwidth, which becomes important when data is flowing at a high rate in both directions at the same time. CAT5e cable supports operating frequencies up to 100 Mhz, while CAT6e can handle frequencies as high as 250 MHz.

As a result, CAT6 has a bandwidth that’s more than twice that of CAT5e, which is analogous to the difference in traffic handling between a two-lane and four-lane highway that have the same speed limit.


Any twisted-pair cables are subject to crosstalk, in which the signal on one twisted pair interferes with the signal on another twisted pair. Both CAT5e and CAT6 use four twisted pairs, making crosstalk a critical design consideration. Achieving the 250-MHz performance of CAT6 means that cable designers must use additional methods to minimize crosstalk.

The CAT6 standard requires reductions in several specific types of crosstalk, including Near-End Crosstalk (NEXT), Equal-Level Far-End Crosstalk (ELFEXT), Insertion Loss (IL) and Return Loss (RL). The lower level of crosstalk for CAT6 cables results in fewer errors and higher data transmission rates.

Early versions of this cable type included a nylon spline to electrically isolate each pair from the other three. However, this addition also made the cables stiffer and less easy to install. Modern CAT6 cables use other methods to reduce crosstalk while retaining flexibility.


The higher requirements of CAT6 cable result in a cost that’s 10 to 20 percent higher than CAT5e. This increase is primarily due to the thicker wiring and greater purity of the copper used. Greater quality control also contributes to the higher cost of CAT6 cable.

Contact ATSI today or call us at 713.622.8666 for more information on our carrier services!