For those who are familiar with different types of bulk Ethernet cables, it is not difficult to tell the differences between cat5e bulk cable and cat6 bulk cable. Apart from functional differences, like data transmission rate and transmission distance, the obvious physical difference is that cat6 bulk cable is thicker than cat5e bulk cable. One reason is that there is a longitudinal separator inside cat6 bulk cable which isolates each of the four pairs of twisted wire from the others. And another reason is that cat6 bulk cable utilizes copper conductor which has larger cross-section area than that of cat5e bulk cable—the wire gauge of cat6 bulk cable is 23AWG while the wire gauge of cat5e bulk cable is 24AWG. Reading this, you may get confused about the wire gauge sizes. What is AWG? Why does 23AWG cat6 bulk cable look thicker than 24AWG cat5e bulk cable? Is wire gauge a good indicator of cable quality? The answer will shown in this article.
First of all, let’s learn about what is AWG. AWG is the acronym for American Wire Gauge, which is commonly used as a standard of measurement for the cross-sectional area of a round wire. Incidentally, it’s important to remember that it is the size of the wire, not the size of the wire with its insulation, measured in AWG. In the case of solid wire, measurement of cross-sectional area is pretty straightforward. While stranded wire is another matter. Its wire gauge is measured by summing the cross-sectional area of the strands. Because there are small gaps between the strands, any given cross-sectional area of wire will take up more overall space in a stranded configuration than it will in a solid wire.
For a lot of people, the relationship of gauge to wire size is confused. In fact, the larger the gauge number is, the smaller the wire is. A 23AWG cable is 0.57mm wide, while a 24AWG cable is 0.52mm wide. That’s why we say 23AWG cat6 bulk cable looks thicker than 24AWG cat5e bulk cable. Here is a figure for you, which shows the comparison between cross-sectional area of cat5e bulk cable and cat6 bulk cable.
The wire gauge is an important factor for determining current-carrying capacity of a cable. In the cable industry, it is referred to as current flow (of electrons) that runs throughout the wire. To better understand this, you can imagine a flow of water that runs through a pipe. The wider the pipe is, the more water runs through it in shorter time. How does that translate to cable? Resistance is how many electrons make it through the cable and do not evaporate. With a thinner cable, there is less flow and heat buildup, which causes the electrons to dissipate. The wider the cable, the easier it is for the electrons to pass through it. To reduce resistance and allow for a better flow of electrons, the cross-sectional area of the cable’s conductor must be increased. By doing so, resistance is automatically reduced over the cable.
An easy way to think about AWG is that the smaller the number is, the physically larger the cable is. Since wire gauge can be a meaningful factor in cable quality which is very important for some applications, like computer networking, speaker wire, analog and digital video, it is necessary to understand the demands of the application before making a judgment about cable quality based upon wire gauge. And I hope this article can help you have a better understanding of AWG.