Cat5e has been around for quite some time now, while Cat6, Cat6a are following in the footsteps with overall faster speeds and many other differences such as price, length, and shielding options in cable runs. Talking about speed first, generally Cat5e can go up to 1 Gigabit with 350 Mhz, where Cat6 and Cat6a are at 10 Gigabit with 550 Mhz. For most residential and home usage, Cat5e will be the preferred choice as the distances are fairly short and the speed in regular home internet setups would likely not be able to go up to the standards Cat6 or Cat6a provide. Cat5e being the more affordable option, you can see why this would be the most popular choice for home and residential use.
For distance, Cat5e runs can achieve up to 100 meters or 328 feet for 1 Gigabit of speed. Cat6 is 50 meters or 164 feet for 10 Gigabits of speed. If the distance goes any further the cable will still work but the speed will drop below 10 Gigabits as the distance increases. For Cat6a the distance works up to 100 meters or 328ft at speeds up to 10 Gigabits. Cat6a would give you the best performance at distances over 50 meters or 164-328 feet. For shorter distances, Cat6 will do fine because it can also handle 10 Gigabit networks, albeit at a shorter distance.
Shielding on Cables
As for the shielding of the cables, there are three main types: Braided, Foil, and Braided plus Foil together. Foil provides coverage of the conductors, which offers high resistance and is usually 100% coverage but is not a preferred choice for grounding. Braided is about 60-85% shielding coverage but provides better conductivity and offers a secure connection to the cable ends and is great for grounding. Many times shielded cables will utilize both braided and foil to ensure the highest level of efficiency and protection. Shielding can be on the inside of a cable, outside of the cable or both. Here are a few examples.
Cat6a Shielding (Highly recommended)
Cat6a setups are highly recommended to be shielded across the entire set up, from the patch panel / server room to the keystone jacks you will be using and then to your workstation area. However if you have an existing setup with an unshielded keystone (e.g. an unshielded keystone jack coming from the wall near a workstation) as long as the cable run from the server patch panel is shielded, this setup should still function and work fine.
shows our recommended set up with an entire setup being shielded. This takes care of any interference that may occur during the entire set up, which is why we highly recommend this.
shows a setup that may be convenient if you have an existing unshielded setup near your workstations. (Please keep in mind the patch panel cable run must be shielded).
In summary, usually everyone has their own specific applications or different reasons as to why they are purchasing a networking cable. After one figures out what they are trying to do, then one can make a decision based on their own needs whether this cable would be for home use or commercial use. For home use Cat5e will do just fine for most applications. If you want to go a step further, you can use Cat6 if certain applications require 10 Gigabit speeds. For more complicated commercial or enterprise setups, such as if you know your cable run will need to go for a long distance of 164-328 feet and if you know you will need the fastest speed, we definitely recommend you go with a Cat6a shielded option. This does future proof setups in case data speeds surpass the 1 Gigabit threshold.