Technology has come a long way since the days of coaxial cables running at a top speed of 10MB/sec. in fact, it has reached a place where in many instances cables are not required at all, and all is done wirelessly.  While that is mostly true for a home network, more complex networks do require cabling. Whereas existing systems are structured with Category 5 cables to meet requirement standards, the use of Category 6 cables is not only growing, it is also good practice as we look at the future of today’s changing technologies.

Category 6 cable is an Ethernet cable that contains four (4) pairs of copper wire, same as its predecessor Cat5, though Cat6 fully utilizes all of its four pairs. Cat6 supports Gigabit Ethernet speeds up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) and supports communications at more than twice the speed of Cat5. Cat6a is an enhanced version of CAT6 that supports up to 10 Gbps speeds.

Both Cat6 and Cat6a are designed Gigabit Ethernet and other standard network protocols, so they can both handle 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-TX, and 10GBASE-T. The differences are evident in speed and distance.

Crosstalk is when signal from one channel or circuit interferes with signal from another channel or circuit. signal degradation from near-end crosstalk (NEXT), power sum NEXT (PS-NEXT) and attenuation is lower in Category 6 cable than in its predecessors, mainly due to better insulation, and Cat6a reduces crosstalk even more. Cat6a’s improvement over Cat6 relates to the alien crosstalk (AXT) present in Cat6a and controls signal interference from nearby cables.

As for their physical properties, Cat6 combines tight pair twists with extra insulation to reduce crosstalk, while Cat6a had additional twisting of each pair around a flexible (also twisted) central plastic support.

Cat6a is bulkier and heavier than Cat6. This will affect the number of cables that will fit a cable tray. This in turn calls for a restriction on bundle size (no more than 50 cables a bundle when using Cat6a). Due to weight, make sure to place Cat6a at the bottom of the basket to avoid crushing smaller-diameter cables.

Cables that are larger in diameter will have a larger bend radius, so it is crucial to allow extra space when using Cat6a cables.