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What is CAT6A and How Is It Being Used Today?

What is the most important component of network design? Cost and performance certainly dictate the final result, but such general concepts don’t really pinpoint a place to start. In reality, a network’s capacity and reliability are built upon the cables that connect everything. When cost and performance are used to select a cable, most network engineers try to stuff as much Ethernet into their system as they can. Ethernet tends to be the more affordable, reliable way to keep devices in communication and fulfill a network’s needs. One of the reasons Ethernet is still able to fill these roles with modern data demands is because newer, more powerful cables are available. While Cat6A is neither the newest nor most advanced Ethernet on the market today, it is a staple in the industry and services a wide range of networks.

The Breakdown

Cat6A is a unique Ethernet design in a few areas. These design difference manifest in direct, specific performance difference and in qualitative attributes. For the specifics, Cat6A maintains a maximum bandwidth of 500 MHz. This is double the bandwidth of Cat6, and it bears important consequences. Chief among those is that Cat6A can maintain 10 Gbps data rates at distances up to 100 meters. This is roughly double the difference of Cat6.

Cat6A also improves on crosstalk mitigation. The design features two more twists than Cat6, and it has additional insulation around the copper wires. This leads to exceptional improvement in reducing alien crosstalk between entirely separate data cables. You can also get shielded Cat6A that pushes these advancements even further.

The reduced crosstalk does come at a cost, though. Cat6A is between 40 and 50 percent thicker and heavier than Cat6. As you would also assume, the more technically capable cable is more expensive too.

CAT6A APplications

Since Cat6A costs more than other Ethernet designs, it’s important to understand when that cost is justifiable. Obviously, it comes down to applications that need the performance of Cat6A, but seeing some of the more common cases can help paint a picture.

Data centers are a place where you’ll see plenty of Cat6A. This is interesting because it involves enduring Cat6A’s biggest weakness in favor of one of its strengths. Specifically, Cat6A’s thicker cable design can make it difficult to pack into cable-dense environments, but that’s exactly where the alien crosstalk mitigation is most important.

Medium-range networks are where you’ll see the most Cat6A. These are networks that need 10 Gbps rates but aren’t necessarily large enough to necessitate fiber optics. Health care and education are the most common fields that meet these criteria. Healthcare offices and schools tend to run on heavy data use, but many of the facilities can be serviced by 100-meter, point-to-point cables. Even large campuses that do require fiber optics will be able to save on infrastructure costs by supplementing the fiber network with Cat6A.

Another common place for Cat6A is in applications that extend beyond traditional voice and data. CCTV, PoE, automation and other functions that are atypical often benefit from the rates and range of Cat6A. In general, non-traditional networks should always look to see if Cat6A is the optimal choice before committing to the wrong cable.

Overall, Cat6A is an advanced Ethernet option that can boost a network’s total capability without escalating costs into the highest tiers. It can serve as a supplement or bridge with fiber networks, and it is a vital means to packing large numbers of cables into a dense network without succumbing to crosstalk. Its bulk and cost is such that it is not the standard for all networks, and there’s a good chance it never will be. Instead, Cat6A is the heart of robust cabling for more demanding networks.

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

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