Can Ethernet Cable Limit Speed?

Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Generally, using a wired Ethernet cable over W-Fi offers faster speeds and lower latency. Wi-Fi technology and hardware has advanced over the years, but has Ethernet also advanced, and does the type of Ethernet cable used really limit speed?

The type of ethernet cable that is used can place a limit on the speeds that can be achieved. Cat5 has a maximum speed transmission of 100 Mbps, Cat5e and Cat6 have a maximum speed transmission of 1,000 Mbps, and Cat6a and above has a maximum speed transmission of 10,000 Mbps.

Just because Cat6a offers potentially faster speeds than the older interactions of ethernet cable, there are other factors that come into play that can influence which type of cable is best for you.

Does the Type of Ethernet Cable Really Matter?

For most home networks, the type of Ethernet cable you use doesn’t really matter and won’t have a massive impact on the overall performance of your network.

This is down to the Internet connection itself often being the bottleneck, not the type of Ethernet cable being used.

Let’s assume you are on an 80 Mbps download speed package with your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Regardless of whether you are using Cat5 cable or Cat6a cable, you will still only receive a maximum download speed of 80 Mbps.

That being said, upgrading to a newer standard of network cable can result in faster local network speeds.

Faster speeds across your LAN (local area network) are always beneficial and can help when transferring data from one device to another across the network.

This could include streaming home media from a NAS or copying files from one computer to another as just a couple of examples.

So does the type of Ethernet cable you use really matter?

Yes in the sense that you can achieve faster speeds across your LAN, but no given that your Internet download speed will always be the limiting factor, so the upgrade may not be worth it.

What Are the Different Types of Ethernet Cable?

Ethernet cables fall into different categories depending on the standard in which they meet.

The different types are rated as Category 5, Category 5e, Category 6 and so on, but these are usually shortened to be more commonly referred to as Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6, etc.

The higher the category, the newer the standard.

All Ethernet cable is backward compatible; the new standards simply support communicating at faster speeds as the technology in different devices advances and offer even greater speeds.

The Ethernet port built into devices hasn’t changed, so you can easily plug in a Cat6 cable even if the device was manufactured back when Cat6 didn’t exist.

You can, therefore, quite happily upgrade your Ethernet cable without fear that they won’t be able to plug into all of the devices you have at home.

Each new iteration of Ethernet cable brings faster speeds and reduced crosstalk to improve the overall performance of the data traveling from one device to another. 

I have a dedicated article on the differences between Ethernet cables should you want to learn more about these differences.

Here is a handy table to summarize the different types of Ethernet cable you can expect to find in a home network and the different speeds they offer.

  Speed  
Length (Meters)10 Mbps100 Mbps1 Gbps10 GbpsPoE?MHz
Cat5100100
Cat5e100100
Cat6100 (55 for 10 Gbps)250
Cat6a100500

You may also like: What Is the Difference Between Cat5, Cat5e and Cat6 Cable?

Is It Worth Upgrading?

Although it may seem tempting to rip out all of your existing Ethernet cables and replace them with Cat6a cable, in reality, Cat5e cable that can provide speeds of up to 1 Gbps, which is plenty fast enough for the Internet speeds most of us receive.

Even if you are fortunate enough to have a Gigabit Internet service, you won’t see an increase in Internet speed regardless of whether you are using Cat5e or Cat6a cable.

If you are just looking for faster Internet speed, I would suggest sticking with Cat5e and not bother upgrading. Cat5e will be more than enough for the majority of home networks. As we discussed earlier in the article, the Internet speed is often the bottleneck, not the type of Ethernet cable being used.

That being said, if you find yourself transferring a lot of data between devices on your home network, it may be worth considering an upgrade.

If you are purchasing new cable or are in the process of wiring your home, I would definitely recommend opting to use Cat6 at least instead of Cat5e. This to future proof you more than anything.

Depending on how much the price difference is, you want to even consider going for Cat7 instead of Cat6. Just note that working with Cat7 cable is trickier than Cat6 or older as it is easier to damage the foil shielding when bending the cable.

In summary, if you have already existing Cat5e cable installed in your home, it probably isn’t worth upgrading. If you are having to buy a new cable, or transfer a great deal of data between devices on your local network, it may be worth using Cat6 for the greater speeds and to future proof yourself.

Related article: How Far Can You Run an Ethernet Cable?

How to Identify Different Types of Ethernet Cable

At a quick glance, all Ethernet cable appears the same, regardless of which type it is.

Telling the different types of cable apart from each based on color and thickness can be both difficult and unreliable; all Ethernet cables will use an RJ45 connector, so this cannot be used to identify them either.

The easiest way to identify the type of Ethernet cable you have is by reading the text that should be printed on the outside. This should tell you which standard the cable meets and will also often also display how much bandwidth the cable is capable of transmitting.

Should you be purchasing new Ethernet cable online, the product description should clearly state the type and which standard it therefore meets. If in doubt, contact the retailer who should be able to quickly answer your query.

Ethernet Cable

Conclusion

Although the type of Ethernet cable you are using can limit speed, for the majority of people, it really doesn’t matter.

Most people won’t be worried if they are using Cat5e instead of Cat6a as the Internet connection is usually the bottleneck; upgrading to a newer type of Ethernet cable won’t magically make this faster.

Using the more recent types of Ethernet, such as Cat6 and Cat6a can prove beneficial to enable faster speeds when two devices on your home network are communicating with each other, but in reality, the majority of people won’t even notice.

If you are currently using Cat5e cable, my recommendation would be to stick with it and not bother upgrading at this point. Cat5e can deliver speeds of up to 1 Gbps, which is plenty fast enough for most people and the Internet speeds they receive into their homes.

If you are needing to purchase new cable, or are perhaps just beginning to wire your home, definitely opt for the highest category cable you can afford for both faster LAN speeds and to future-proof yourself.