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The Difference Between Cat6 vs Cat6A Ethernet Cable

CAT6 Cable vs. CAT6a Cable

On surveys at NM cabling, we are regularly asked If Cat6 and Cat6a cable are 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. 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 cabling standards were launched, its bandwidth capability increased to 250Mhz compared to its predecessor, Cat5e. However, over 90 metres, its performance was still limited to 1-Gigabit, 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 offers a significant performance upgrade. It provides improved performance and greater capabilities than its predecessor.

Which is better, Cat6 or Cat6a? 

 Regarding general performance, Cat6a is, of course, the better and more capable network cable.

However, the better solution for you is sometimes based on something other than the capability of the cable but rather on whether it fits your requirements.

The question of whether CAT6 or CAT6a is better depends on your specific needs and requirements in a few ways, such as

  • Budget
  • 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 that not all budgets suit it.

In addition, the government guidelines for all new network cabling in education, schools, and colleges are now Cat6a copper cabling and OM4 fibre optic cabling. The 2024 guidelines can be found here

Also, are you upgrading what you already have? Or are you installing a 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. There is no need to upgrade if you are currently running Gigabit hardware and have Cat6 cabling in place.

However, if you install new hardware that requires a 10-gigabit transfer, then Cat6a is the cable to install. If your network demands a higher bandwidth of 10-Gigabit, CAT6a is necessary.

It could be that you decide only to 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 the Cat5e and Cat6 cabling in place for the VoIP phones and Computers as they didn't require 10 Gigabit, and the cost would have been too high to rip out and replace.

There is always a compromise, and our project team can always suggest a suitable solution for your current and future needs.

How do I know if my cable is Cat6 or Cat6a? 

You can check the cable markings or labels to identify whether your cable is CAT6 or CAT6a. Manufacturers such as Excel, for whom 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. There are sometimes markings at the patch panel or user end on the module. However, this is only occasionally 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 all the elements. 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 your cabling is suitable for use is to have it tested with a Fluke DSX. This tester can set a standard for testing your cable and let you know if it is suitable. Even if you have a complete 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 RJ-45 connectors. These connectors are widely used in most Ethernet networks. They have a standardised 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 regarding a physical connection.

However, as we mentioned previously, any data cabling link is only as good as its weakest part- Therefore, if you plug Cat6 patch leads into a Cat6a link, it reduces the overall link to a Cat6 cable capability.

Does it work if Cat6 and Cat6a are connected together?

As mentioned above, Cat6 and Cat6a cabling work on the same connectors known as Rj-45. In addition, both cables have eight wires combined into four twisted pairs. The main difference is the construction of the cables.

Therefore, Cat6 and Cat6a parts will work together, especially if patching leads of different types.

Different modules and connectors with different cables are not recommended as they are designed for that specific cable. For example, the Cat6 module will be designed to fit a Cat6 cable onto it. The Cat6a cable will be able to be terminated onto it, but it will not fit as well and may even come off over time.

Lastly, remember the overall performance of a cabling link is only as good as its weakest part. Therefore, putting a low-category element in a higher-grade link will reduce its overall effectiveness to that lower category of cable.

Is Cat6a thicker than Cat6? 

Due to the increased copper gauge and 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 minimise 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 more extensive containment and space to install. The additional containment or replacement of containment should always be a consideration when installing Cat6 cabling.

What is the cost difference between CAT6 and CAT6A?

A lot of elements go into the overall price of a cabling quotation, so every location, building and scope of work will have a different average price per outlet. However, on average, Cat6a cabling can be estimated to be 20-30% more expensive than Cat6 cabling.

We have written three articles on how much specific cabling installations are, which can be found below.

How much is Cat6a cabling?

How much does it cost to install Cat6 cable?

Cat5 Installation Cost - How much is Cat5e Cabling?

 

CAT6 Cable vs. CAT6a Cable Summary

In conclusion, CAT6 and CAT6a cables have distinct differences in terms of

  • Performance
  • Bandwidth
  • Capabilities
  • 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 essential 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.

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

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