From schools and hotels to offices and hospitals, bandwidth-intensive applications that call for speeds beyond 100 and 1000 Mbps are only going to grow – no matter the organization. An increasing number of wireless devices, the transfer of high-resolution images, streaming high-definition video, multimedia graphics and surveillance footage are just a few examples of the demands being placed on Category 5e networks. But what happens when the cabling infrastructure we’ve relied on for years can no longer keep up?

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It becomes increasingly difficult to justify an investment in cabling infrastructure that we know will be reaching the end of its useful life. With the ability to handle 1000 Mbps speeds (Gigabit Ethernet) at 100 MHz, Category 5e cabling will require an upgrade in the next few years in order to support the applications and emerging technologies that most enterprises will be using by then.

We’re seeing signs throughout the industry that Category 5e cabling is becoming obsolete, and its installation is quickly declining. According to most recent market reports, Category 5e cabling now accounts for less than one-quarter of cable shipments – and there are multiple reasons why.

Category 5e is Insufficient for Emerging Applications

Cable will be moving from behind the wall to above the ceiling, where it can be terminated to a wireless access point (WAP). To accommodate a growing number of WAPs for large numbers of users, more cabling will need to be deployed.

Next-generation Wave 2 WiFi devices will transmit at data rates greater than 1 Gbps, possibly reaching up to 7 Gbps. Consequently, higher-speed Ethernet links will need to be deployed to connect these WAPs. If you plan to deploy next-generation WiFi in the next few years – as most business will do – the best (and possibly only) viable solution to support it is Category 6A cabling. Overall, either to access points or to workstations, average speeds are getting faster – links faster than 1G will be required, such as 2.5G, 5G and 10G. Category 5e is unable to handle 10 Gbps speeds up to the required 100-meter distance.

  Length
(meters)
10
Mb/s
100
Mb/s
1
Gb/s
10
Gb/s
PoE Mhz
Cat 5 100 X X     X 100
Cat 5e 100 X X X   X 100
Cat 6 100 X X X X X 250
Cat 6A 100 X X X X X 500

HDBaseT is another emerging networking technology that will become commonplace in the next few years, but can’t be supported by Category 5e cabling. HDBaseT transmits uncompressed full high-definition video, audio, Ethernet, control and power up to 100 m over balanced twisted-pair cabling. A newer specification calls for up to 100W of power delivered over 4-pair cables. Only Category 6A cabling will be able to handle distance and power requirements of this connectivity standard.

Next-generation power over Ethernet standard (4-pair PoE) – another factor impacting which cabling category is used – delivers power more efficiently by using all four cable pairs. Moreover, cable gauge must increase in order to reduce resistance and allow for higher power delivery. For this reason, 4-pair PoE performs better on Category 6A 23 AWG than on Category 5e 24 AWG.

cant ignore cat 6a bannerCabling Standards Recommend Category 6A

Because of emerging applications and technologies listed above, some industry standards for new installations now either call for a minimum of Category 6 cabling, but with Category 6A as the recommended cabling, or simply recommend Category 6A.

  • ANSI/TIA-568 for commercial buildings
  • ANSI/TIA-942-A for data centers
  • ANSI/TIA-1179 for healthcare facilities
  • ANSI/TIA-4966 for educational facilities

Although Category 5e cabling served its purpose for 15+ years, investing in it for new installation in 2016 wouldn’t be a smart financial decision. Category 6A may cost more upfront than Category 5e cabling, but you save money in the long run by having a futureproof network that can support whatever technology or application your enterprise decides to deploy. You can also rest easy knowing your cabling infrastructure won’t need to be replaced in a few years.

Today’s Category 6A solutions offer smaller OD cables and RJ45 connectors that are faster to terminate – thus saving time, space and money. Belden offers complete end-to-end solutions to support the mission-critical needs of wired and wireless LANs, helping enterprise organizations develop networks to support whatever applications and technology come next. Learn more about creating a futureproof network that can handle more people, devices and systems.

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