Understanding Cat 5 Cabling
To make networks more structured and easier to maintain, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and the Electronics Industries Alliance (EIA) released a set of standards known as TIA/EIA 568. These commercial wiring standards led to the birth of Cat 5 cabling, which is widely-found in older wiring installations.
What is Cat 5 cabling?
"Cat 5" is short for Category 5, a classification established by the TIA/EIA. Cat 5 cabling uses four pairs of twisted copper cables inside a plastic coating to help eliminate electrical interference and voice "crosstalk." While newer installations use Cat 5e, Cat 6, or higher, Cat 5 is upward compatible, meaning installers can still support the technology.
Cat 5 cabling is primarily used as a structured cable, like Ethernet, in computer networks. Cat 5 can also support other communication signals, including video and telephony. Cat 5 remains the most basic category of cable compared to Cat 5e and Cat 6.
Cat 5 cabling is available in the following formats:
- UTP: Unshielded Twisted Pair, most commonly used in the US.
- SCTP: Screened Twisted Pair, most commonly used in Europe.
Cat 5 cables will come as solid or stranded, with solid cables being the more rigid of the two. Solid Cat 5 cables are preferred to reliably transmit data over a longer distance; stranded Cat 5 cables are more flexible and can be used for cable patching.
A Cat 5 cable will support 10-100 Mbps Ethernet with 100 MHz capability. In contrast, Cat 5e cabling offers higher levels of data transmission, and Cat 6 cabling provides the best technological performance. Speed and megahertz will increase with the category of the cable.
Cat 5 cabling applications
Cat 5 cables that meet TIA/EIA 568 standards have many applications:
- Local Area Networks (LAN): Cat 5 cabling helps connect computers, printers, and routers to a network.
- Voice and data: This cable is ideal for telephone systems, fax machines, and high-speed Internet connections.
- Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM): Networks that make use of an ATM transmit data in fixed-sized packets. This allows the Cat 5 cable to carry audio, video, and data down the same line.
- Token Ring: This classic network configuration allows you to connect several computers so that only one computer has control of the network at one time.
Depending on the application, Cat 5 cabling can support multiple signals through a single cable. For example, a standard Cat 5 cable can transmit two telephone lines with high-speed Ethernet in one connection. A USOC/RJ-61 Cat 5 cable can transmit multiline telephone connections.
Is Cat 5 right for you?
Since cabling and wiring providers adhere to constantly-changing TIA/EIA standards, few installers still use Cat 5 for expanded or brand new wiring projects. Instead, Cat 5e and Cat 6 cabling has become the standard.
Although Cat 5 cabling is still available, performance standards continue to progress, leaving the cable technology behind. Nonetheless, it is still perfectly acceptable to use Cat 5 cabling to add extra connections to an existing network before an upgrade is needed.
If you plan to add more employees or equipment, you can also use fiber optics, which have a higher capacity for data transfers. This increased bandwidth gives your IT department more room to expand.
Pricing for Cat5e
Cat5e also comes in two other types; plenum and non-plenum. Plenum is a fire rated type of cabling. This means that as it burns, the gas that is released is not as harmful to lungs as burning a regular plastic. Plenum is the usual required cabling for indoor use and always recommended. Non-plenum cabling can be used in open ceilings such as warehouses and steel framed, open ceilings like one would find in barns and some discount retail stores.
The pricing varies greatly between the two.
Plenum cabling can cost between $175 and $220 per 1,000 feet. Non-Plenum cabling can cost between $50 and $100 per 1,000 box. Boxes will come in 1,000 foot lengths, however some electrical supply companies will sell both plenum and non-plenum cabling on spools up to 3,000 feet at a discounted rate. These rates can be as low as $.05 and $.02 a foot respectively. For projects that will require more than 1,000 feet of cabling, bulk is not always recommended as multiple cables (or "runs) can be pulled from the multiple boxes simultaneously, saving massive amounts of labor cost.
Knowing the Nation Electrical Code in regards to structured cabling is not enough to help one determine which type of Cat5e is best for your project. Local fire and electrical codes can vary and have more stringent requirements. Checking your local codes and standards is always recommended before purchasing cabling. This could either save you money or from buying cabling that you cannot use.Ready to Compare Cabling and Wiring Price Quotes?