Cat 5 / Cat6
Cat 5e has been around for over 15 years. At the time it came out, it gave the first glimpse of the 1 Gigabit networks as a possibility, although it was not typical to find hardware reasonably priced that would support those speeds.
In the past few years, hardware costs have come down and allowed Gigabit networking to become easier to afford. From our perspective, the absolute minimum network should be a Gigabit network.
Cat 5e cables are typically 24 gauge twisted pair wires, which can produce a Gigibit network at distances up to 328 ft., including patch cables at both ends.
Cat 6 cables came out only a few years after Cat 5e. This cable gave the ability to have a 10 Gigabit network. For much of the 2000’s, Cat 5e was run to the workstations and Cat 6 was run as a backbone from router to switches.
However, the 10 Gigabit network on Cat 6 cables is limited to 164 ft., including patch cables. After that distance, its ultimate speed is the same as cat 5e, i.e. 1 Gigabit.
Cat 6a, while also being 23 gauge, is considerably thicker then Cat 6, which in turn is considerably thicker then Cat 5.
Partly, this is due to the extra-thick plastic around the wires themselves, and partly due to the tighter winding of the pairs themselves, creating more copper per inch.
Cat 6a will do 10 Gigabit per second networking for the full distance of Ethernet (328 ft.) Cat 6a also reduces the crosstalk among the pairs, which further reduces the delay in the cables.