Over the last 5 to 8 years, Category 6 (CAT6) cable and Connectors Modular Plugs have become a basic requirement for new buildings in order to support Gigabit network applications and support bandwidths of up to 250MHz. CAT6 is also beginning to replace CAT5E in residential environments. Category 6A (CAT6A) which supports data rates of 10G up to 100 meters and a bandwidth of up to 500MHz has begun to grow in popularity. Many Data Centres, hospitals, and universities have adopted CAT6A as a new minimum requirement. Other developments in CAT7, CAT7A, and also CAT8 are continuing,
which will support even higher data transfer rates and bandwidths.
The dramatic growth in data center throughput has led to the increasing usage and demand for 10G network. Category 6a, also named Cat6a cable, is currently the preferred Ethernet cable designed to meet and exceed the requirements for the next generation 10GBASE-T applications. At present, there are various types of Cat6a network cables like UTP, F/UTP, F/UTP, and F-FTP or S-FTP. Which one is best suitable for the 10GBASE-T network? And other considerations will be given in this article too.
Comparison of CAT6 vs CAT6A cabling
CAT6 cabling provides many advantages and benefits over the CAT5E cabling infrastructure.
When CAT6 was first introduced it was approximately 50% more expensive than CAT5E, which made it cost-prohibitive for many installations.
However, CAT6 costs have reduced substantially over a number of years to the point where costs are almost on par. CAT6 provides greater bandwidth over CAT5E and allows for higher data transfer rates.
Therefore, CAT6 has now become the minimum standard for new cabling installations. As well as being able to easily support 1 Gbps network speeds, CAT6 can also support higher data rates of 10Gbps. However, 10Gbps is only supported over shorter distances of 37-55 meters.
CAT6A is capable of supporting data transfer rates of up to 10Gbps at a maximum bandwidth of 500MHz.
CAT6A has additional and tighter twists, with additional insulation to reduce crosstalk. CAT6A is also backward compatible with CAT6 and CAT5E, however, speeds are always limited and will perform to the lowest category cable or connector that is installed in the link.
CAT6A is fast becoming the most cost-effective solution as it is seen as a future-proof cable system. CAT6A components are used in Class EA networks as defined in ISO/IEC 11801 and TIA/EIA 568.
One of the perceived disadvantages of CAT6A is the actual size and weight of the cable. CAT6A was 50% larger when it originally appeared in 2008. Since then, cable sizes have been reduced and slimmed down by 10%. The additional weight increase also reduces the amount of cable that can fit into a cable tray and where you can place them.
This results in a larger cable tray and conduits and smaller bundle sizes. The increased room is also required for the cable bend radius in the cable tray, patch panel, and behind wall outlets.
Termination methods and times had also been seen to be a negative for CAT6A installation, however, new modular jacks and outlets which can be terminated in around 2-3 minutes have reduced installation time and cost.
One of the main arguments in favor of installing CAT6A infrastructure now is to future-proof the network. Therefore, if the planned lifetime of a new cabling system is five or more years, CAT6A should be considered as an option. If the planned lifetime of the network is ten years or more, CAT6A definitely appears to be the favored solution.
In fact, when considering the use of CAT6A components in a 10Gbps, Class EA network, consider the following factors:
CAT6A is recommended for new Installations in Healthcare
CAT6A is recommended for new installations in Education
CAT6A provides enhanced performance for Power over Ethernet (PoE)
CAT6A supports wireless systems that rely on 10Gig
Cat6a Cable for 10GBase-T: U-UTP vs F-UTP vs F-FTP
we also have the option of selecting from either a shielded or an unshielded solution. Shielded CAT6A cable generally has an outer foil shield around each individual pair or around all 4 copper pairs. In addition, modular jacks, outlets, and patch panels are also protected by a metal housing around these components. Each solution has its place, as well as its own set of benefits.
CAT6A cable is available in various configurations. Shielded and unshielded cables are often referred to as F/UTP (shielded) and U/UTP (unshielded) cable.
The first letters indicate the type of overall shield while the latter letters indicate the type of shielding on each pair and the balanced element.
Unshielded Twisted Pair
UTP Ethernet cable comprises pairs of twisted wires. It is one of the most basic ways used to help prevent electromagnetic interface.
Foiled Twisted Pair
F/UTP network cable has an overall foil or braid screen encasing the 4 pairs of unshielded twisted pairs.
F-FTP or S-FTP
Foiled or Shielded and Foiled Twisted Pair
F-FTP cable owns foil shielding around the individual twisted wires and an overall screen which can sometimes be a flexible braid.
There is also CAT6A S/FTP (screened/foiled twisted pair) cable, normally a CAT7 cable that has four individually shielded pairs and an outer screen braid around all four pairs.
One of the latest additions to the CAT6A shielded cable range is a CAT6A U/FTP cable. This cable configuration has all four pairs individually shielded, rather than an outer foil shield. The overall test results and performance of this cable has been quite impressive.
Additional benefits of a shielded CAT 6A solution
Protects against ANEXT
An improvement over CAT6A unshielded – more headroom across the various testing parameters
Reduces EMI/RFI – Beneficial for Industrial & Healthcare networks
Termination time for shielded components has improved over time – Previously, longer installation times were required for shielded products, however, installation time has been reduced by die-cast metal jacks that do not require special bonding to shield, making installation time for UTP & STP comparable
What Else You Should Consider When Choosing Cat6a Cable?
CAT6A requires additional testing, however, network testers are all pre-configured and automated with PASS / FAIL requirements for the link and can quickly and effectively test the performance of the network.
The alien cross talk begins at 350MHz so compared to CAT6 and CAT5E, CAT6A requires additional testing.
AACRF – Alien attenuation cross talk ratio far end AFEXT – Alien far end cross-talk ANEXT – Alien near-end cross-talk PSAACRF – Power sum alien attenuation cross-talk far end P SAFEXT – Power sum alien cross talk far end PSANEXT – Power sum alien near-end cross-talk
Cable Size and Weight
Cat6a cable operates at frequencies up to 500 MHz—twice than that of Cat 6. Controlling noise and crosstalk at higher frequencies has required Cat6a cables up to 50% larger than their Cat 6 predecessors. The larger size means fewer cables can fit into a cable tray or conduit, which is a huge concern in retrofit installations. While many available Cat6a options remain significantly larger and heavier, the newest Cat6a cables are only about 15 percent larger than Cat 6.
Larger cable diameters mean a larger bend radius which is important when routing cables in tight spaces such as inside wall cavities. The bend radius also affects the ability to route cables for maximum airflow within racks. The smaller the bend radius, the easier the cable is to route and install.
Most Cat6a Ethernet cables are larger because they have more and thicker materials. More twists in the copper pairs, larger splines separating the pairs, and thicker outer jackets. All of these lead to a longer time to prepare and terminate Cat6a cables. Thinner and more round cables take less time to install.
There is a perception that shielded cable provides better noise immunity, but the effectiveness of the shield depends on the quality and reliability of the shield termination, balance of the twisted pairs, and quality of the local and remote ground connection. The impedance of the ground connection can increase higher frequencies and differences in ground potential can couple noise into the conductors. Cable designs that effectively surround the conductors with a Faraday cage can provide an electromagnetic barrier without the potential drawbacks of grounding.