There is no doubt that the Cat 5e patch panel always works with the Cat 5e cable, while the Cat 6 patch panel is specially designed to manage the Cat 6 cable for a neat, secure and well organized network. However, have you ever met the condition that the old Cat 5e cable should be work with the new Cat 6 patch panel or the old Cat 5e patch panel should be used to manage the new Cat 6 cable because you only changed one of the two devices into a new one? Did they still perform well? Not any compatible issue? Or work badly for the mismatching problem? The following will discuss about the differences between Cat 5e and Cat 6 cable, and the differences between Cat 5e and Cat 6 patch panel, then explore these two mismatching cases for the answers.
Firstly, as the Cat 6 cable consists of 23 AWG copper conductors but Cat 5e cable is made up of 24 AWG copper conductors, the diameter of Cat 5e cable is smaller than that of Cat 6 cable. Meanwhile, there is the spline between each pair of wires in Cat 6 cable that separates one pair of wires from one another, as shown in the figure below. All these two factors make the Cat 5e cable thinner than Cat 6 cable. Besides, Cat 5e cable is specially applied in 100Base-T and 1000Base-T network, while Cat 6 cable is more suitable for 1000Base-T network and supports the 10GBase-T network at lengths up to 37 meters. Hence, if the data transmission speed in your network is very low, there should be no difference in performance between Cat 5e and Cat 6 cable. But if high speed is required, which one to be chosen should depend on the network demand.
Since there is a difference in the wire gauge specified between Cat5e and Cat6 cable, their corresponding patch panels are different accordingly, which should be paid attention to in the mismatching cases. What’s more, the data transmission speed is also different, because the Cat 5e patch panel always works in Fast Ethernet network and the Cat 6 patch panel is highly recommendable to support the Gigabit Ethernet network.
As mentioned above, the Cat 5e cable is thinner than the Cat 6 cable. As a result, when we use Cat 5e cable with the Cat 6 patch panel, can it perform well? Will it be too loose? If you make a experiment, you’ll find that it can work normally in this case. Why? Although the Cat 6 individual twisted pairs insulated is usually thicker than Cat 5e, this is usually not a problem with termination, but with how many cables you can stuff through a piece of conduit. Hence, Cat 5e cable can work normally on the Cat 6 patch panel but may be a loose connection. What should be noted is the network performance. Since Cat 5e cable works with Cat 6 patch panel in this case, the performance of the network can only reach the maximum performance of Cat 5e cable.
Except for the case we have already discuss, you may also encounter with the case that the Cat 6 cable should work with the Cat 5e patch panel. Although the diameter of the Cat 6 cable is larger than that of Cat 5e cable, it is still able to work without effect on the performance of the cable and patch panel if you use the Cat 6 cable with Cat 5e patch panel. As for the network performance, the fact is that the Cat 6 cable is backward compatible with Cat 5e feature. Hence, there is no need to worry for using the Cat 6 cable with the Cat 5e patch panel. But you are still suggested to upgrade your patch panel to a Cat 6 type, just in case.
From this paper, it is easy to learn that both the Cat 5e cable can work with the Cat 6 patch panel and the Cat 6 can work with the Cat 5e patch panel. However, both are not recommended for the following reasons. If you are in the first case, then you are suggested to use a Cat 5e patch panel to manage the Cat 5e cable, which is less expensive can performs better than the Cat 6 patch panel. Meanwhile, in the second case, when punching down the Cat 6 cable on a Cat5e panel, the larger wire may end up bending or even breaking.