Cat 5e vs. Cat 6 for IP Cameras?

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Jan 30, 2012

What cabling should you use for IP cameras? Cat 5e or Cat6? Spend any time talking to cabling professionals these days, and they'll tell you that Category 6 cabling is the only way to go in any new application. However, Cat 6's increased performance comes at an increased cost over Cat 5e. In this update, we'll look at how the two compare, specific performance issues which may be of interest to installers, and whether Cat 6 is really needed in surveillance applications.

The Basics

Cat 5e and Cat 6 are the two main UTP cables in use today. Both have similar construction, made up of four twisted pairs of copper wire in the range of 22-24 AWG under a single jacket. They do have some key differences, however:

    • Cat 5e: Cat 5e is rated to a max operating frequency of 100 MHz. It's main use historically has been for Fast Ethernet (100Base-T), but it's capable of gigabit speeds using all four pairs, as well. Cat 5e uses 24AWG conductors, with few exceptions. The following image shows a partially stripped Cat 5e cable:
    • Cat 6: Cat 6 is rated to a max operating frequency of 250 MHz. A variant of gigabit Ethernet was created to take advantage of its better performance characteristics to use only two pairs for gigabit speeds. However, most gigabit transmission still uses four pairs today. Cat 6 often uses 23 AWG conductors, which makes it less flexible and gives it a larger outside diameter, requiring more care in installation. Cat 6 cables also commonly use a physical barrier in the cable to maintain separate between pairs. The following image shows a stripped Cat 6 cable. The white separator can be seen in the middle of the pairs:
  • Cat 6A: While Cat 6A is intended for high-speed applications, far removed from surveillance, it should be mentioned for completeness. Cat 6A uses conductors of up to 22 AWG, and is rated up to 500 MHz. It is finding use mostly in data center applications, as it's capable of up to 10-gigabit Ethernet. 

Aside from these physical characteristics, there are a slew of other parameters which these cables are tested for, such as crosstalk (interference between conductors), attenuation (signal loss due to distance), and return loss (loss of signal power due to reflected signal). Cat 6 and Cat 6A also are tested for parameters Cat 5e is not, essentially for better interference rejection. These factors, combined with increased bandwidth, are what allow higher-rated cables to perform better.

Do I Need Cat 6?

Based on the above information, the question then becomes whether surveillance applications need this extra performance provided by Cat 6? The honest answer is: No. Very, very few IP cameras use gigabit Ethernet connections, and Cat 5e is easily capable of 100 Mb Ethernet.

Where Cat 6 does have potential, however, is in locations which may be more difficult environments. These include "noisy" facilities with a lot of RF or electromagnetic interference, which may create transmission errors. High temperatures also negatively impact cable performance, as throughput decreases as temperature increases. Finally, if a large quantity (100+) of cables are to be installed in the same path, such as cable tray, signal coupling can occur.

Cat 6's superior performance allows it to reject interference from these outside sources better than Cat 5e. Additionally, it simply allows for more headroom due to increased bandwidth. This means that while its performance may be decreasing due to any of the above factors, it has a better chance of maintaining a usable level of performance where Cat 5e could not. Substantially decreased performance can lead to blocking and ghosting in video, or just plain video loss.

Price Comparison

Cat 5e and Cat 6 cables compare as follows:

  • Cat 5e Non-plenum : $0.15-0.20 USD
  • Cat 5e Plenum: $0.25-0.30
  • Cat 6 Non-plenum: $0.20-0.25
  • Cat 6 Plenum: $0.35-0.40

Jacks and patch panels also see an increase in price:

If you take these figures and apply them to a typical camera, with a 150' cable run, it adds up to about $20 more in material per camera, not a trivial amount, but not necessarily cost-prohibitive. In projects where budget is a vital concern, it may add up, however. Users should be aware of customer IT department requirements, as well, as many organizations have standardized on Cat 6 for all installations.

2 reports cite this report:

STP vs UTP for Video Surveillance Tutorial on Dec 20, 2017
For many video system designers, deciding which ethernet cabling to use is a quick decision: go with the cheapest.  However, this overlooks the...
Comprehensive Surveillance Cabling Guide on Dec 17, 2014
Surveillance cabling seems mundane, yet is a critical topic. A system with the best equipment can still be a failure if the network connecting it...
Comments : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

IP Camera Cable Labeling Guide on Sep 14, 2018
Labeling cables can save a lot of money and headaches. While it is easy to overlook, taking time to label runs during installation significantly...
IP Camera Cable Termination Guide on Sep 06, 2018
Terminating cables properly is critical to network performance, but it can be a tricky task with multiple steps. Fortunately, this task is easy to...
Access Control Course Fall 2018 on Sep 06, 2018
Registration IS CLOSED ends this Thursday. Register now. If you are looking to strengthen your ability to design and deploy access systems or...
Drain Wire For Access Control Reader Tutorial on Sep 04, 2018
An easy-to-miss cabling specification plays a key role in access control, yet it is commonly ignored. The drain wire offers protection for readers...
IP Camera Cabling Installation Guide on Aug 29, 2018
IPVM is preparing the industry's first Video Surveillance Installation book and our upcoming Video Surveillance Installation Course. We have...
Exit Devices For Access Control Tutorial on Aug 28, 2018
Exit Devices, also called 'Panic Bars' or 'Crash Bars' are required by safety codes the world over, and become integral parts of electronic access...
Inputs/Outputs For Video Surveillance Guide on Aug 24, 2018
While many cameras have Input/Output (I/O) ports, few are actually used and most designers do not even consider them. However, a good understanding...
Backup Power for Large Security Systems Tutorial on Aug 24, 2018
Choosing the right backup power system depends on system size. While small and medium systems greatly benefit from using UPS battery backup...
Backboxes for Video Surveillance Tutorial on Aug 15, 2018
Backboxes are a necessity in surveillance, whether for managing cable whips, recessing cameras, adding wireless radios. But it can be confusing to...
Camera Focusing Tutorial on Aug 09, 2018
A camera's focus is fundamental to quality imaging. Mistakes can cause important problems. In this guide, we explain focus issues and proper...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Alexa Guard Expands Amazon's Security Offerings, Boosts ADT's Stock on Sep 21, 2018
Amazon is expanding their security offerings yet again, this time with Alexa Guard that delivers security audio analytics and a virtual "Fake...
UTC, Owner of Lenel, Acquires S2 on Sep 20, 2018
UTC now owns two of the biggest access control providers, one of integrator's most hated access control platforms, Lenel, and one of their...
BluePoint Aims To Bring Life-Safety Mind-Set To Police Pull Stations on Sep 20, 2018
Fire alarm pull stations are commonplace but police ones are not. A self-funded startup, BluePoint Alert Solutions is aiming to make police pull...
SIA Plays Dumb On OEMs And Hikua Ban on Sep 20, 2018
OEMs widely pretend to be 'manufacturers', deceiving their customers and putting them at risk for cybersecurity attacks and, soon, violation of US...
Axis Vs. Hikvision IR PTZ Shootout on Sep 20, 2018
Hikvision has their high-end dual-sensor DarkfighterX. Axis has their high-end concealed IR Q6125-LE. Which is better? We bought both and tested...
Avigilon Announces AI-Powered H5 Camera Development on Sep 19, 2018
Avigilon will be showcasing "next-generation AI" at next week's ASIS GSX. In an atypical move, the company is not actually releasing these...
Favorite Request-to-Exit (RTE) Manufacturers 2018 on Sep 19, 2018
Request To Exit devices like motion sensors and lock releasing push-buttons are a part of almost every access install, but who makes the equipment...
25% China Tariffs Finalized For 2019, 10% Start Now, Includes Select Video Surveillance on Sep 18, 2018
A surprise move: In July, when the most recent tariff round was first announced, the tariffs were only scheduled for 10%. However, now, the US...
Central Stations Face Off Against NFPA On Fire Monitoring on Sep 18, 2018
Central stations are facing off against the NFPA over what they call anti-competitive language in NFPA 72, the standard that covers fire alarms....
Hikvision USA Starts Layoffs on Sep 18, 2018
Hikvision USA has started layoffs, just weeks after the US government ban was passed into law. Inside this note, we examine: The important...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact