For most people wireless is the simpler, easier route for their networking needs. But with an increase in multimedia sharing, ever-increasing bandwidth use, and growing security concerns hard-wired is becoming a viable option.

Hard wired networks allow home and business owners to have security as well as high-speed bandwidth that won’t suffer from the same latency issues that tend to accompany Wi-Fi when it experiences heavy usage. Internet access, file sharing, media streaming, online gaming, IP security cameras can all be on the same hard-wired network and the bandwidth usage will only be limited by your cable provider, not by a Wi-Fi router.

Cat 6, also known as category 6 cable, is a color coded twisted pair cable. This type of standardized cable is commonly used for Gigabit Ethernet networks. In many ways Cat 6 cable is an improvement on previous standardized cables and is also backwards compatible. If a system runs on Cat 3, or Cat 5/5e then it can run on Cat 6

A little history

Most everyone is familiar with Cat 5, and Cat 5e. In fact Cat 5e has been in use for at least the past decade, if not longer. When Cat 5e came out, it offered the first tantalizing glimpses of what a Gigabit network could do at the time. It presented it as a possibility, though it was not easy to find reasonably priced hardware to make the most use of Cat 5e and actually achieve Gigabit network speeds. Cat 6 cables came out a few short years after the introduction of Cat5e. When it first came out it was considered overkill. Cat 6 cable is more than capable of a 10 Gigabit network. Most people couldn’t afford to achieve Gigabit speeds, so why purchase a more expensive cable when Cat5e will do. When Cat 6 was used, it was used as a the back bone for the network, connecting all the different routers, switches, etc., while Cat 5e was used to connect the multitude of workstations to the network.

However, progress does march on, and the cost of hardware has come down, thus allowing affordable Gigabit network speeds. As a result one Gigabit can now be the absolute minimum speed for any network.

Limitations and Advantages

While the Cat 6 network is faster, it has at least one limitation. In order to achieve the 10 Gigabit speed the cable itself can be no longer than 164 ft. That is including any and all patch cables. If the cable is longer than that the speed will be no better than 1 Gigabit, exactly the same as Cat 5e. This is fine for most home owners, but not many business.

Even as a single Gigabit network cable, Cat 6 still has advantages over Cat 5e. The twisted cables in Cat 6 are much tighter than those in Cat 5e. This allows for two-way communication on each pair of wires. Cat 5e is not capable of this. In general, when compared to Cat 6, cat 5e actually has higher delay and skew. So while both Cat 5e and Cat 6 will run at 1 Gigabit, Cat 5e will actually appear to be slower because of the greater potential for delay. Cat 6 cable also contains a plastic piece within the cable in order to help decrease crosstalk, though some do claim that the piece is unnecessary.

Things to keep in mind when installing Cat 6

Cat 6 (and soon 6a) does have specifications for proper installation and cable termination, though a few of these specifications are similar to its predecessor, Cat 5. Do not kink or bend the cable too tightly and the radius of the bend should be at least four times the outer diameter of the cable. The kinking and bending of the cable is especially important as Cat 6 is substantially thicker than Cat 5 or Cat 5e. This thickness is from both the thicker insulating plastic around the cable as well as the tightly packed wires. If the cable is kinked or bent to sharply inefficiencies will occur and the network will slow down. In some instances cable shielding is required if the Cat 6 cable is expected to perform in an area that has high electromagnetic interference.

Constant Improvements

Just like computer and software technology, networking technology is constantly improving as well as becoming less and less expensive. Cat 6e and Cat 6a are already available. More and more businesses and homeowners are better off using a variety of different cables, and upgrading as needed. Though putting in Cat 6 cable will satisfy most people’s needs for the next five years, if not even longer, as a 10 Gigabit network is more than most homes and some small businesses need.