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What is the difference between Cat6 and Cat6A?

Differences beteween Cat6 and Cat6A

Designing a network from scratch is a major undertaking. Even for small networks, there’s a lot to consider. Once you have your layout and basic design, you still have to make a plethora of decisions. Many of those decisions will be tied to specific hardware choices, and they will be heavily dictated by which cabling you prefer for your applications.

When it comes to choosing the right cable, research is the only way to succeed. In the modern age, most networks still run primarily on Ethernet. Even the most advanced networks in the world still utilize devices that need that Ethernet connection. There’s no getting around it. You need to choose which Ethernet cables will go in your network, and that is best done by comparing the two most common cable types in all applications: Cat6 and Cat6A. This brief overview will cover the essential differences to help you make those decisions.

Cat6 in a Nutshell

Cat6 is the de facto standard Ethernet cable for new installations. It’s compatible with older standards, and it’s the lowest cost Ethernet that can achieve 10 Gbps speeds. That makes it more than sufficient for standard voice and data applications, and it’s why you see it everywhere.

Cat6 runs at a maximum bandwidth of 250 MHz. It features more twists and better shielding than its predecessors. These features enable Cat6 to dramatically reduce most forms of crosstalk. That yields the 10 Gbps at workable distances of up to 55 meters. In short, Cat6 handles modern demands with ease and affordability. Unless a network has special needs, it runs on Cat6.

Cat6A Basics

The “A” in Cat6A stands for augmented. That’s an apt word to use. Cat6A is fully compatible with Cat6, but it escalates performance in three key areas. First, Cat6A can operate at up to 500 MHz. The extra bandwidth doubles the effective distance at which the cable can maintain 10 Gbps — up to 100 meters.

The second upgrade is in cable twists. Cat6A adds two more twists. This makes the cable more robust and resistant to most forms of crosstalk. That’s further augmented by the final key design difference. Cat6A has additional shielding built into the cable structure. This makes the cable thicker and heavier, but it also eliminates alien crosstalk.

The increased cable bulk is enough that switches, cabinets and other tightly-packed network stations might not be able to utilize it. In fact, Cat6A is fat enough that its packaging is fundamentally different from traditional Ethernet. These points are particularly important when comparing the best applications for each cable.

Cat6 & Cat6A Applications

As you already read, Cat6 is the global standard. It isn’t until network applications demand the performance of Cat6A that you can justify the increased cable cost. Some of the most common applications that fall into that category are data centers. In fact, any network that utilizes an abundance of cable will need the alien crosstalk shielding. This applies to many healthcare and educational facilities.

Even if you don’t need the extra shielding, Cat6A is the cable of choice for applications outside the standard realm of voice and data. Automation, CCTV, access control and PoE applications all benefit from the higher bandwidth of Cat6A. In every case, doubling the operational distance is paramount to building reliable networks. It’s hard to run closed circuit surveillance with a maximum cable length of 50 meters.

In practice, the differences between Cat6 and Cat6A are fairly substantial. Cost is an obvious determiner of what cable gets used in any application. The specific advantages of each cable often make the decision for you when designing and building networks. If you need more shielding, longer operational distances or need to run PoE, Cat6A will get the job done. If you have limited space or smaller cable density, Cat6 is the easy choice.

To order or if you have any questions, please contact one of our Ethernet Cabling Experts today.

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