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Crossed Wires

So it's no wonder most enterprises try to avoid upgrading their wiring more than about once every 10 years. And when they do get around to it, most organizations install cable that meets the latest EIA/TIA standard, to ensure maximum longevity.

And the Category Is ...

Over the past seven years, deciding which standard to buy into has been a no-brainer. Since 1995, companies looking to rewire opted for the EIA/TIA Category 5 standard, despite the hassle and the expense of it, because it meant they'd be able to run 100-Mbps Ethernet. A year later, the IEEE started developing the gigabit over copper standard for use with Cat5 cable, which was an even bigger incentive. The Cat5e standard tweaked the spec to ensure that gigabit would work. It will take many years for most desktop applications to grow into gigabit speeds, but it really is just a matter of time.

In June, the EIA/TIA finalized the Cat6 standard, which, theoretically, makes it possible to send bits faster than Cat5e does, so Cat6 is the obvious choice if you're rewiring, right? Wrong. You'll pay up to 50 percent more for Cat6 than you will for Cat5e, despite the fact that Cat6 provides no known benefits--no existing or planned standard, not even the next version of Ethernet, takes advantage of Cat6. The IEEE's 10 Gigabit standard (802.3ae), also approved in June, runs only on fiber--there are no plans to run it on twisted pair.

The best argument that cable vendors can come up with is "more headroom," but what they really mean is "more profit." A good Cat5e installation, and even many Cat5 installations, can provide more than enough headroom to run gigabit in most situations, and a simple certification test will tell you if your cabling infrastructure is up to spec.