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Is a Cat6 Cable the Same as an Ethernet Cable?

Is a Cat6 Cable the Same as an Ethernet Cable?

When you’re trying to make a network that is fast and stable, you usually have to run cables. If you want to save money along the way, then more often than not, you’re going to turn to Ethernet cables.

But, what is Ethernet? Which cable should you use? What about Cat6? Isn’t it supposed to be better?

These are common questions, and below you’ll find answers to all of them and a whole lot more.

What Is Ethernet?

Let’s talk about Ethernet first. This is a common connection type for networking computerized devices. Most commonly, it’s used for LAN connections (although you will see it in WAN setups as well). Ethernet was originally developed in 1973, and it is still very commonly used today.

Ethernet is a copper wire type that uses cable pairs to transmit digital signals. The signals are standardized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), meaning that Ethernet connections are universal.

Typically, Ethernet connects with RJ45 connectors. There are newer connectors (like GG45), but the new connectors are reverse-compatible with RJ45. In other words, all standardized Ethernet cables already work with existing infrastructure. In fact, much of the popularity of Ethernet stems from the fact that it is a plug-and-play technology.

Since Ethernet has been around for so long, there have been many updates to the technology. You will find that there are 11 different categories (more on that in a bit) of Ethernet cabling. With this variety, you get varying levels of performance depending on the Ethernet category that you pick.

What Is Cat6?

To understand Cat6, we first have to break down the name. It stands for “category 6,” which is a reference to Ethernet categories. Let’s make this perfectly clear. Cat6 is a type of Ethernet cable. It’s the sixth category in the line, and it is considered a modern Ethernet category.

But, this will make more sense as we get deeper into what it means to be an Ethernet category.

As you already read, Ethernet has been around for many decades. Over the years, developers designed upgrades into Ethernet cables so that they could perform better. Cat 1 Ethernet peaked at 2.94 Mbps. Cat6 Ethernet can get up to 10 Gbps, more than a thousand times faster than the original design. Clearly, the upgrades over time have mattered.

Today, Cat5 through Cat8 are all used in various networks, depending on budgets and network demands. As you go up in the categories, you get faster and more powerful connections, but the equipment costs more money. To add context, Cats 1 through 4 are no longer used as they are just too outdated.

It was Cat5e that was the first to be standardized by the IEEE, and every Ethernet category since has also been standardized.

So, what does all of this mean for Cat6?

Cat6 is a modern, standardized Ethernet category. It’s faster than Cat5 (you can check the table below for more information), and it’s not as fast as Cat7 or Cat8. That makes it a relatively affordable option for high-speed internet, but it’s not powerful enough for top-end applications like work in data centers.

Cat6 ismost popular for home, business, and industrial networking.

Cat6 vs Ethernet

With all of that covered, how do we compare Cat6 to Ethernet? As you now know, it’s one type of Ethernet, but for a full comparison, we need to look at similarities and differences between the various categories.

Cat6 uses an RJ45 connector. This makes it compatible with any Ethernet port that exists today, and you can even use it with hardware designed for Cat7 or Cat8. That’s because Ethernet is reverse-compatible, so you can mix and match cables as you see fit, and everything will work (although you cannot splice different cable categories together).

The one thing to remember is that the network will only be as fast as its slowest component, so mixing and matching can slow performance.

All of this is to say that Cat6 has more in common with other Ethernet categories than not. Still, there are notable differences, mostly in terms of performance, and those are best expressed in the table below.

Category Max Speed Max Bandwidth
Cat5e 1Gbps 100 MHz
Cat6 1Gbps 250 MHz
Cat6a 10Gbps 500 MHz
Cat7 10Gbps 600 MHz
Cat8 40Gbps 2000 MHz

You might note that the table shows Cat6 and Cat6a. Cat6a is a minor upgrade to Cat6 that allows it to more consistently hit higher data speeds, but as a result, 6a is less flexible and a little harder to use in some types of networks.

Overall, Ethernet is an easy, reliable, powerful way to connect a network, and Cat6 has a solid place in the Ethernet hierarchy.

Additional Learning Center Resources