The Difference Between Cat6 vs Cat6A Ethernet Cable
CAT6 Cable vs. CAT6a Cable
Regularly on surveys at NM cabling, we are asked Is Cat6 and Cat6a the same? Or why should I have one or the other?
When it comes to Ethernet cabling, CAT6 and CAT6a may sound very similar, but they are not the same when it comes to cabling performance. In fact, there is a big difference in their standards and capabilities.
All copper network cables are rated for a specific speed or capability over 90 metres. When Cat6 was launched its bandwidth was an increase to 250Mhz compared to its predecessor Cat5e. However, over 90 metres, its performance was still limited to 1Gigabit which was the same as Cat5e
Cat6 is capable of 10 Gigabit up to 55 Metres but in a design, you should always plan to the 90m rule
CAT6a, also known as Category 6 Augmented, is an enhanced version of CAT6 cable and finally offers a big upgrade in performance. It offers improved performance and greater capabilities than its predecessor.
Which is better Cat6 or Cat6a?
When comparing for general performance Cat6a is of course the better and more capable network cable.
However, the better solution for you isn’t always based on the capability of the cable but rather does it fit your requirements.
The question of whether CAT6 or CAT6a is better depends on your specific needs and requirements in a few ways such as
- Hardware requirements
- Building Layout
- Containment requirements
- Existing infrastructure
CAT6a offers higher bandwidth and supports faster data transmission speeds compared to CAT6. Over the standardised 90m, it is designed to operate 10 Gigabit Ethernet or 10GBASE-T. In contrast, as we previously mentioned, CAT6 is limited to 1 Gigabit Ethernet (1000BASE-T) speeds.
However, if your hardware doesn’t require 10 Gigabit and your budget is limited Cat6a cabling may not be the best solution for you
Is it worth upgrading from Cat6 to Cat6a?
Firstly, as previously discussed, do you need Cat6a for your requirements? At NM Cabling we recommend Cat6a as standard for all new builds, but we also understand not all budgets are suitable for it.
Also, are you upgrading what you already have? Or are installing a totally new network cabling system?
Deciding whether to upgrade from CAT6 to CAT6a depends on your current and future network requirements and the type of hardware you will use in the present and the future. If you are currently running Gigabit hardware and have Cat6 cabling in place there is no need to upgrade.
However, if you install new hardware that requires 10-gigabit transfer then cat6a is the cable to install. If your network demands higher bandwidth and 10 Gigabit CAT6a is a necessity.
It could be that you decide to only upgrade part of your network. For example, we have installed Cat6a cables to new Wi-Fi Access points that require 10-gigabit cabling. However, we left in place the Cat5e and Cat6 cabling to the VoIP phones and Computers as they didn’t require 10 Gigabit and the cost would have been way too high to rip out and replace.
There is always a compromise, and our project team are always able to suggest a suitable solution for your current and future needs.
How do I know if my cable is Cat6 or Cat6a?
To identify whether your cable is CAT6 or CAT6a, you can check the cable markings or labels. Manufacturers such as Excel for who we are an improved installer, usually indicate the cable type on the outer sheath or insulation.
Look for "CAT6" or "CAT6a" printed on the cable. At the patch panel or user end on the module, there are also sometimes markings. However, this isn’t always a trustworthy source as an installer may have installed a Cat6a panel on Cat6 cabling. Any data cabling link is only as good as its weakest part so you need to know what all the elements are. Additionally, you can examine the specifications provided by the manufacturer or consult a professional to verify the cable type.
The best way to know if the cabling you have is suitable for use is to have it Fluke tested with a Fluke DSX. This tester can set a standard for testing your cable and let you know if it is suitable for use. Even if you have a full cat6a installation this will advise you if it's installed correctly and working to the expected performance.
Do Cat6 and Cat6A use the same connectors?
Yes, both CAT6 and CAT6a cables use the same connectors known as RJ-45 connectors. These connectors are widely used in most Ethernet networks. They have a standardized eight-pin design, and all follow the same colour-coded terminations.
However, cat6 connectors are a combination of both a solid module and a jack and shutter. Cat6a is generally always a jack and shutter.
Therefore, you can use the same connectors for both cable types, making them interchangeable in terms of a physical connection.
However, as we mentioned previously, any data cabling link is only as good as its weakest part- Therefore if you plug a Cat6 patch leads into a Cat6a link it reduces the overall link to a Cat6 cable capability.
Is Cat6a thicker than Cat6?
Due to the increased copper gauge and the increased shielding, CAT6a cables are typically thicker than CAT6 cables. The increased thickness is primarily due to the shielding and insulation required to achieve the enhanced performance of CAT6a.
The thicker construction helps minimize crosstalk and external interference from other cables and other cores within the same cable. This additional construction ensures better signal quality and integrity.
The increased cable size also leads to a greater bending radius for Cat6a cables. They require larger containment and space to install. The additional containment or replacement of containment should always be a consideration when installing Cat6 cabling.
CAT6 Cable vs. CAT6a Cable Summary
In conclusion, CAT6 and CAT6a cables have distinct differences in terms of
- Construction and size
While CAT6a offers higher speeds and longer transmission distances, CAT6 is suitable for most standard Ethernet networks.
Upgrading to CAT6a should be considered if your network demands 10 Gigabit Ethernet speeds. Especially, if over 55 metres.
However, as discussed, it's important to factor in the higher cost and thicker cable size which leads to greater containment.
Verifying the cable type can be done by checking the cable markings or seeking professional advice.
Both CAT6 and CAT6a use the same connectors, ensuring compatibility in physical connections, but always remember that a cable link is only ever as good as its weakest part.
Read more about Cat5e Cable FAQ – 19 Frequently Asked Questions
- Data Cabling Knowledge Centre
- What’s the difference between Cat5e & CAT8 cable
- Cat5e Cat6 Cat7 and Cat8 Cabling - YouTube video