Low Voltage Wiring Explained

Oct 19, 2020 11:43:57 AM

low voltage cover

What is the difference between CAT5 and CAT6 cable in low voltage wiring?

Cat5? Cat6? Does one wire fit all circumstances and applications? You may already work in an office that has been properly wired for sharing business information.

As home office growth expands to fill the demand for more employees working from home due to COVID-19, many have been looking for home networking technology for both internet use and information sharing. For home, office, or AV business applications, in this blog we will untangle the mystery around these categories of cabling to give you an understanding of why one size does not fit all in low voltage wiring.

Is low voltage wiring a place to cut costs? A reputable installer will follow a well-designed blueprint that has been planned with the function of the system components in mind.

What is a Cat5 or Cat6 ethernet cable?

"Cat5" or "Cat6" simply stand for “category 5" or "category 6" cable; the various numbers stand for standards or specifications for each type of cable. Basically, each of these cables is a pair of wires that are twisted and capable of carrying signals. Luckily, higher numbers are all backward compatible, meaning a Cat6 cable can handle Cat5 capabilities. Cat5 Cables are responsible for keeping many electronic devices operational—computers, cell phones, gaming systems, tablets and other electronic devices all rely on good cabling. Cat6 cable is an upgraded version of Cat5 and provides better transmission performance with less crosstalk (signal interference) and better shielding.

Over the years of increasing needs for higher bandwidth, Cat5 cables evolved into the commonplace Cat5e cable, as the differences between the two are negligible.

Ethernet Cables

Cat5

  • 100 mbps (megabits per second)
  • 100 m (meters in length)
  • 100 MHz (megahertz bandwidth)

Cat5E

  • 1000 mbps (1 gigabit per second)
  • 100 m
  • 100 MHz

Cat6

  • 10 gbps (gigabits per second)
  • 55m
  • 250 Mhz

Cat6a

  • 10 gbps
  • 100 m
  • 500 MHz

Cat7

  • 10 gbps
  • 600 MHz

           

Why are shielding and crosstalk important?

Because this low voltage wiring consists of twisted pairs of wires that carry signals enclosed in a cable covering, avoiding crosstalk between these wires is accounted for in some of the improved categories. Cat6 cables have a buffer running through the center between the pairs, while Cat7 cabling has each pair of wires individually shielded between one another.

Some newer devices even require that shielded cable be used. See the diagram below showing the degrees of shielding of the wire pairs in different low voltage wiring categories.

Cat7 has insulated each of the wire pairs with a wrap to deter crosstalk; this extra insulation, however, results in a much heftier cable that is not as flexible and can be more expensive. Cat7 is rarely used in North America since it does not use the more commonplace RJ45 headers; additionally, it hasn’t been approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA). Given the lack of improvements over Cat6a, Cat7 is not necessarily worth the investment.

What about Fiber Optic Cabling?

Unlike the traditional copper cabling outlined above, fiber optic cabling transmits light instead of electricity. Light signals are cleaner and quicker than electrical signals, with the added bonus of being immune to electrical interference and far less susceptible to temperature and moisture fluctuations.

Fiber optic cabling is newer and more expensive than copper cabling, but the maintenance costs in the long run may be lower than copper cabling. Terminating fiber can be more difficult due to its delicate nature; depending on your location, finding an accredited fiber optics installer may be difficult or costly. 

That said, if your business expects a high demand for fast internet service with the quickest load times, fiber optic will always be a superior choice to Cat6 cabling.

Real Examples of low voltage wiring 

Cabling Diagram copy-1

Which do you choose?

 

Depending on the installation and speed requirements, many business applications will likely choose Cat6 or Cat6a low voltage wiring, though companies willing to pay for the best performance possible will choose fiber optic cable. With Cat6 or Cat6a, your business will be set for future use—because who wants to rewire an installation? 

 

For more information on how PTG can work to design and install your low voltage wiring, contact us here. You can be sure the right low voltage wiring is chosen for your installation at the right cost, equipping you to face your technology needs head on.

Laurel Wright

Written by Laurel Wright

Senior Marketing Manager. Engaging technology for customer experience. Background in written communications and publication production, including technical writing.

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