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Wi-Fi has been a permanent fixture in many households for many years. With this in mind, it can be easy for internet users to forget about Ethernet cables. Most people just plug them in to their wireless router and never think about them again- unless there's a problem. However, some users actually prefer a wired connection as it is usually much faster and more stable than wireless. For these people, the choice of data cabling is an important one. Even if you only connect wirelessly, the cable that you use can still have an effect on the overall performance of your internet. So, what option is best for you? There are different categories of data cabling, including Cat 5, Cat 5e and Cat 6.
Cat 5 Ethernet cabling can achieve speeds of up to 100Mbps. However, due to its design, it is possible that cheaper versions will only be able to reach 10Mbps. Although still compatible with current hardware, cat 5 cabling tends to be avoided as it is the weakest of the three types. As data speeds continue to creep up, it's likely that cat 5 data cables will become obsolete within the near future.
An improved design on the Cat 5, the Cat 5e(enhanced), can be used to achieve much higher speeds, up to 1000 Mbps or Gigabit Ethernet. These high speeds are made possible thanks to a design that eliminates 'crosstalk', a type of data interference. More and more households are utilising Gigabit speeds and therefore Cat 5e cabling is the standard for the majority of domestic internet users.
As you have probably guessed, Cat 6 features yet another design improvement, allowing for significantly faster speeds. With more twists in each pair and a plastic spine, Cat 6 has the potential of achieving speeds of up to 10Gbps. It should be pointed out that this speed is only attainable at cable lengths of 37 metres or less, any higher and the signal will degrade. Cat 6 Ethernet cabling is unnecessarily advanced for domestic environments but those looking to futureproof may want to consider it.
Which is right for me?
Considering its limited capabilities, it's safe to say we can rule of Cat 5 cabling straight away. Therefore, it's basically a choice between Cat 5e and Cat 6. Yes, it's true that Cat 6 will offer greater speeds, less interference and fewer errors. That being said, this cabling is more expensive and installation can be arduous due to the thick insulation. Cat 5e cabling is cheaper and easier to install. It's also more than adequate in terms of speed, especially for the average internet user. If you insist on creating an infrastructure that is prepared with the super data speeds of the future, then 5e may not be for you but it would be enough for most people.
There are also a variety of physical differences to consider when choosing between different Ethernet cables. For example, cables are either shielded (STP) or unshielded (UTP). Shielding is a further layer of protection which negates the effects of interference. Choosing between these types is fairly straightforward. You should use shielded cables in areas that experience a high level of interference or when installing them outside or in walls. Unshielded cables are perfectly fine for basic applications, for example connecting your computer with the outlet in the wall or the router. It should be pointed out that shielded cables are more expensive to buy and to install, so this should also be factored in to your decision. Another physical consideration is the choice between solid and stranded cables. Solid cables feature a single copper wire and are much more durable, therefore ideal for permanent installations. Stranded cables feature multiple copper wires twisted together and therefore aren't as durable but are much more flexible. Stranded cables are therefore ideal for any applications where you will be moving the wire around, for example connecting to your laptop.