Cat 6 a: The Ultimate Guide

Cat6A Ultimate Guide

Cat6a, short for category 6 augmented, is an Ethernet cable that can supply internet networks to businesses and homes at high speeds. It’s a high-quality cable that supports fast speeds and is not very susceptible to crosstalk and interference. 

Learn more about Cat 6 a cable as well as other types of ethernet cables and which is best for your business. 

What Is a Cat 6 Cable, and Is It the Same as an Ethernet Cable?

Yes, Cat 6 is a type of Ethernet cable. Ethernet cables are ubiquitous, supplying much of the modern world with internet access. As high speeds become standard, many businesses and even homes are using Cat 6 Ethernet cable to supply their internet. 

What Is an Ethernet Cable?

Ethernet cables are network cables that connect devices and computers to the internet. They plug in with a port at a network switch, modem, or router and connect each of your devices in your building. With an Ethernet cable, you can hardwire your devices to your network, providing fast and efficient service. 

An Ethernet cable creates a local area network (LAN), which also allows devices within your network to share information with each other. This helps your business be efficient by connecting computers, printers, copiers, and other devices. 

An Ethernet cable can also be used to create a wireless network for your business by connecting to a router. 

Also read: Ethernet Cable vs Network Cable

ethernet cable installation

Is a cat 6 cable an ethernet cable?

A category 6, or Cat6 cable, is a specific type of Ethernet cable. It was first introduced in 2002, and power over Ethernet (PoE) was introduced on Cat6 cables in 2003. 

Inside the cable, you’ll find eight copper wires twisted into four pairs. The wires in a standard Cat6 cable are blue, blue and white, brown, brown and white, green, green and white, orange, and orange and white. 

Cat6 cables can transfer data at up to 1 Gbps and up to 250 MHz. When compared to earlier cable versions, these cables are designed to transmit further with a clearer signal. The wires in Cat6 cables are more tightly twisted than wires in lesser cable types. This allows for less crosstalk and interference on the Ethernet line. They also have a higher bandwidth because they have a faster operating frequency of 250 MHz. 

Installing Cat6 cables is a good way to future-proof your network. If you opt for the lesser Cat5e, you might find yourself needing to install new cables in the near future. This would waste a lot of time, money, and resources in your business. If, however, you already have other Ethernet cables installed and you want to begin to install Cat6 cables, they are backward compatible with other cable categories.  

What Is Cat6 Ethernet Cable Used For? 

Cat6 Ethernet cables are used for any device that accesses the internet on a local area network. This might include desktops, laptops, TVs, and other devices in the internet of things (IoT). 

Cat6 cables can support the following networks: 10BaseT, 100Base-TX, 1000 Base-T, and 10 GBase-T. These are all various types of high-speed Ethernet networks. 

Read this article to learn more about What Is a Cat 6 Cable, and Is It the Same as an Ethernet Cable?

is a cat 6 cable an ethernet cable

Cat Ratings for Ethernet: Everything You Need To Know 

If you are in the position of choosing an Ethernet cable for your network, it pays to be well-informed on different Ethernet cable categories. Ethernet cable categories start at Cat3 and run up through Cat8 (skipping Cat4). Quite literally, choosing the correct cable can save you money even if the right cable for you isn’t the cheapest one available. 

What Are Cat Ratings for Ethernet? 

Cat ratings are category ratings for Ethernet cables. The higher the number, the more bandwidth and data the cable can support. 

There are eight categories of Ethernet cables, although the lower cable categories have effectively been phased out of use today. 

Cat3 and Cat5 cables are no longer widely used for Ethernet, and neither of them would be a good cable choice for most businesses today. 

Cat5e cables are still widely used today, especially in homes. Cat5e cables have a maximum data transmission of 1 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 100 MHz. They’re often used in homes and some small businesses but work best in smaller areas. 

Cat6 cables have a maximum data transmission of 1 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 250 MHz. They’re commonly used in commercial buildings and work well in small to medium-sized buildings. 

Cat6a cables have a maximum data transmission of 10 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 500 MHz. They’re commonly used in commercial buildings. 

Cat7 cables have a maximum data transmission of 100 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 600 MHz.

Cat7a cables have a maximum data transmission of 100 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 1,000 MHz.

Cat8 cables have a maximum data transmission of 40 Gbps and a maximum bandwidth of 2,000 MHz.

cat5e cat6 cat6a cat7

How to Choose an Ethernet Cable 

It might make sense to simply choose the highest category cable available for your business, but there are other variables to consider when choosing a cable. 

Of course, higher cables deliver faster speeds, but they do so to the detriment of the cable’s flexibility and ease of installation. They also cost more than lower category cables. A higher category cable might make installation more difficult, labor-intensive, and thus expensive. 

Additionally, installing a cable category that is higher than your devices or network can support won’t give you faster speeds. However, this is where it gets a bit tricky because you want to install cables that will be ready to support your business in the future. 

Cat6 vs Cat5 

Almost without fail, Cat6 is better than Cat5. Cat5 is quickly becoming outdated, and devices in the future may not support Cat5 cables. If you’re trying to decide between the two, always go with Cat6. 

Cat 5 vs Cat5e

Again, Cat5 cables are being phased out in many cases, so it’s almost always better to go with Cat5e. While Cat5e may become antiquated in the near future, it is still in use today, and it can provide the speeds your business needs to function. 

Cat6 vs Cat6a 

Deciding between Cat6 and Cat 6a is a bit trickier. Cat6 is a good choice. It’s a flexible cable that is compatible with modern devices and network speeds. It’s also cheaper than Cat6a cable. Cat6a cable, however, is quickly becoming more prevalent and is the ultimate option if you want to future-proof your business and save money long-term. 

Cat6 vs Cat7

If you need more bandwidth than Cat6a can offer, it makes sense to go with the more expensive Cat7 or Cat7a cable. These cables will be more expensive and more difficult to install, however. 

Cat7 vs Cat8

While most cable categories increase data transmission and bandwidth in small increments, Cat8 makes a huge jump from its closest category, Cat7a. Most businesses won’t need Cat8 cables. They’re best for large server rooms and data centers, and they will definitely future-proof your business. 

How a More Expensive Cable Can Save You Money

Today, your devices might not be able to run at the higher speeds supported by a Cat7 cable, for example, but that might not be the case in three years. Higher cat cables are more future-proof than lower cat cables. Installing a higher cat cable today could save you money because it will prevent you from needing to reinstall and re-buy cable in a few years. 

Read this article to learn more about Cat Ratings for Ethernet: Everything You Need To Know

Cat6a vs. Cat6: What’s the Difference and Which One Do I Need?

Ethernet cable is the backbone of today’s wired networks, and the two most commonly used Ethernet cables are Cat6 and Cat6a. Both of these cables provide great performance at a reasonable price point, but Cat6a has the edge on fast data speeds at a greater distance and better crosstalk shielding. 

Cat6a vs cat6

Similarities Between Cat6a and Cat6 Cables 

Cat6 and Cat6a cables have similar cores: they are made of four pairs of twisted copper wires, and they are encased in a protective jacket. Inside the cable, a plastic piece called a spline helps keep the twisted pairs separated. Both cable types are relatively immune to crosstalk and interference, and they provide fast, stable, and reliable connections. 

Differences Between Cat6a and Cat6 Cables

Let’s look at a quick rundown of the differences between the two cable types. 

Cat6 CablingCat6a Cabling 
Supports networks at 1 Gbps and up to 250 MHzSupports networks at 10 Gbps and up to 500 MHz
Made of thick copper wires and jackets Made of even thicker copper wires and jackets
Thick, inflexible cabling that can be difficult to install, though easier than Cat6aVery thick, inflexible cabling that can be very difficult to install 
Eight wires twisted into four pairsEight wires twisted into four pairs; wires are more tightly twisted than Cat6
Can be run up to 165 feetCan be run up to 328 feet
Requires lower performance switches and hardware Requires higher performance switches and hardware

Cat 6 Ethernet Cable

Cat6 is standard in many new installations as well as network remodels because it is compatible with older hardware and cost-effective.

Though it isn’t as fast as Cat6a, Cat6 is generally fast enough for most businesses that aren’t dealing with huge amounts of data on their networks.

Cat 6 a Ethernet Cable

Cat6a is Cat6 “augmented.” It was introduced on the market as an improvement on Cat6 that has faster data speed at a longer distance. It can transmit data at the same fast speed over twice the distance as Cat6.  It also has better shielding against crosstalk because it has more twists in the conducting copper wire that forms the cable core.

It also makes the cable much thicker than Cat6a and more difficult to install, and its terminations require special Cat6a-specific keystone jacks rather than the standard RJ45 that works for Cat6.

Cat 6a Cables

Hardware Considerations

The maximum speed of each cable represents a potential speed. The real-world performance of both cables depends on its installation and hardware. Not all hardware is built to be capable of 10 Gbps speed. 

Which Ethernet Cable Should I Use?

Consider the following four questions when deciding on an Ethernet cable: 

  1. What are my data speed needs now? What about the future?

Find a baseline for your current data speed, and let that inform you and your installer about your future network speeds. 

Additionally, will your business ever need more bandwidth? It’s easier and more cost-effective to plan ahead and install cables and hardware that are capable of future upgrades. 

Generally, Cat6 is fine for businesses whose main needs are for voice and data, but those that have automation, access control, CCTV and security devices, or PoE applications need Cat6a in order to have consistently good network performance.

  1. What distance do I need my network cable to cover?

The main difference between Cat6 and Cat 6 a is the data speed over distance. Cat6 cables can sometimes run at speeds faster than 1 Gbps, but not at the maximum distance of 165 feet. If you have a network topography with data ports that are over 55 meters from the server, Cat6a will help increase performance.

If the distance is shorter than 55 meters, then Cat6 will still give you excellent data speeds as long as it is installed correctly and with the right hardware to maximize its performance.

  1. What is my budget?

Budget is a factor in every network installation. Consider how much money you have for this project and work with an installer to get a robust and powerful network within those constraints. But do remember that with an Ethernet network, it’s genuinely better to pay for good hardware upfront rather than be faced with data speed struggles down the road.

  1. What will my installation look like? 

Because Cat6a cables use thicker wires and jackets than Cat6 cables, the cable itself is thicker and less flexible. In many larger buildings and new construction, this isn’t usually an issue. Cat6 cables are typically easier to work with and install. As cables move up in category, the wires and other materials inside tend to get thicker, making the cable more difficult to work with. 

Read these articles to learn more about What Is the Difference Between Cat6 and Cat 6a Cables? and Cat6a vs. Cat6: What’s the Difference and Which One Do I Need?

What’s The Difference Between Cat6e and Cat6a Ethernet Cable?

Another important distinction to make is between Cat6e and Cat6a, which are both based on Cat6 cable, and are advertised as having greater speed and longer runs. They are not, however, identical, and Cat 6 a cable tends to outperform Cat6e cable, especially on longer runs and when it comes to data speed. It is also more expensive to purchase and install.

What do the letters mean?

“Cat6e” stands for Category 6 “enhanced”. Although this type of cable is not formally recognized by any technical organization or body, it is still produced by manufacturers.

Cat6a cable does have formal technical recognition from the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA)

Cat 6a and Cat 6e comparison

Distance: Both Cat6e and Cat6a have a maximum of 328 feet. 

Jacketing and Shielding: Both Cat6e and Cat6a are available with various outer jacketing options to suit a range of installation settings and can be shielded or unshielded. 

Frequency: Cat6a has a transmission frequency of up to 600MHz. Cat6e speeds vary between 250MHz and 500MHz.

Data speed: Cat6a has a max data speed of 10 Gbps for up to 100 meters. Cat6e can potentially reach the same data speed, but its actual speed will vary widely and is dependent on the cable termination and cable testing of each specific installation. 

Uses: Cat6e is commonly found in home networks while Cat6a is commonly used in office networks and data centers as well as high-end residences. 

Cost of installation: Generally, higher-speed cable costs more to install. This is true of both Cat6e and Cat6a, although Cat6a is typically more expensive. 

Should I Choose Cat6a or Cat6e? 

As data speeds continue to increase and Ethernet networks play an ever-more-important role in business and communication, most people recognize that they will need to increase their data capabilities in the future.

CAT6e looks pretty good on the surface, with its advertised data speeds and lower price point, but our preference for business is CAT6a cable. Its reliability over distance as well as its higher bandwidth usually exceeds the current needs of most customers, and thus allows room for future network expansion without the need for laying new cable. CAT6a also has a specific technical designation with the TIA, whereas CAT6e is more of a marketing term. 

Read this article to learn more about What’s The Difference Between Cat6e and Cat6a Ethernet Cable?

What Is Cat6a Wiring?

To understand Cat6a cable, it’s also important to understand the way the cables are wired. Inside a Cat6a cable, you’ll find Cat6a copper wiring. The wiring consists of eight conductor wires twisted into four pairs. These are usually color-coded, which helps you identify wires should you ever need to look inside your cabling. 

Cat6a Wiring diagram

What Is the Difference Between Cat6a Wiring and Cabling? 

While similar, these terms refer to slightly different things within a network. The term cabling refers to the entire cable, including any insulation or sheathing. The term wiring refers specifically to the inner wires located in the core of the cable. 

Cat6a Wire Twisting

An important component of Cat6a wiring is the wire twisting. The copper wires in Cat 6a cables are twisted to help reduce crosstalk and interference. 

All wires within Ethernet cables are twisted, but some are more tightly twisted than others. There is no set standard for how tightly wires in Cat6a cables need to be twisted, which means each brand supplying wires will have a slightly different twist tightness. 

The more tightly twisted the wire, the better the performance. Most Cat6a wires are twisted at at least two twists per centimeter. Furthermore, each twisted pair within the cable is twisted at a different rate. Changing the rate helps the wires run the signal more efficiently, and it reduces the chance of interference. 

Power Over Ethernet

Cat6a wiring is also ideal if you require power over Ethernet (PoE) in your business. This is when you run an electric wire along with your Ethernet wires. Using PoE is convenient because it eliminates the need for power cords. It works well with Cat6a wiring because it’s a strong wiring system that doesn’t see much of a disturbance from adding power to the cabling. 

Read this article to learn more about What Is Cat6a Wiring?

How Fast Is Cat6a Ethernet Cable?

Despite the presence of Cat7 cables and fiber optic cables on the market, Cat6a remains one of the most widely-used types of cable. This is thanks to Cat6a’s reliable speed and performance, reduced interference and crosstalk, and its price point.

Gigabits per second: What does it mean?

Gigabits per second, or Gbps, is a measurement of how much data a cable can transmit in one second. Sometimes abbreviated “G”, as in 10G or 2.5G, it’s faster than both kilobits per second (Kbps) and megabits per second (Mbps). 

Old-school dial-up internet was generally in the neighborhood of 50 kilobits per second. Today, most home networks run on a minimum speed of 20 megabits per second (20,000 kilobits), and most businesses use at least 2 gigabits per second (2 million kilobits per second). Cat6a cable transmits 10 Gbps.

Speeds of 10 Gbps make it possible to move 1 Terabyte of data across a Cat6 cable in twenty minutes, compared to the three hours it would take a Cat6 cable. Functionally, this means that Cat6a cable provides a jump in bandwidth that greatly increases speed.

Cat6a Ethernet hardware

While Cat6a is faster for farther than Cat5 and Cat6, it can only reach that potential if the hardware on its network also supports high data speeds.

Also, because Cat6a cable contains thicker copper wires and tighter twists than Cat5 or Cat6, it requires patch panels, jacks, and connectors with higher specifications, which are outlined below. 

NBASE-T Ethernet switches

The designation NBASE-T indicates that all the ports or some of the ports on the switch will support all speeds between 1 Gbps and 10 Gbps. There are older switch models that only support 1 Gbps or 10 Gbps, which means that they can’t support 2.5G or 5G speeds.

This is pretty limiting, so it’s best to simply get a NBASE-T switch that covers all the intermediate speeds as well.

NBASE-T Ethernet switches

Cat6a terminations

Although it is used in Cat5 and Cat6 cabling, the RJ45 jack is not appropriate for Cat6a terminations; it will slow the speed down. 

Instead, there are specific Cat6a keystone jacks that can handle the higher data speeds. These jacks are available in shielded and unshielded options.

You’ll also want to make use of patch panels in order to keep the cabling secure and neat.

What Materials Do You Need To Terminate Cat6 Cable?

Internet Service Provider speed

Although this isn’t technically hardware, the size and speed of your ISP package will limit the speed of your network.

For example, a network with a 1 Gbps download speed cannot reach the max 10 Gbps, regardless of how high a cable grade it employs. 

The cable grade can make data transfer across the local network faster, but it won’t increase internet or download speeds.

Cat6a speed: Is this the right cable for me?

Cat6a’s fast data speed makes collaboration and file sharing over the Internet or on a LAN fast and easy, and its large bandwidth means there’s room to scale up the scope of the network in the future.

In many cases, Cat6a is a worthwhile upgrade for many commercial networks, since it provides a major boost in data speed, reduces crosstalk, and makes future network upgrades easier and less expensive.

Cat6a Ethernet Cable Speed

Read this article to learn more about How Fast Is Cat6a Ethernet Cable?

Is Cat6a Cabling Right for Your Business?

When ultimately choosing cabling for your business, you want to find the sweet spot of performance and price, just as you do with most aspects of your business. As previously mentioned, Cat6 Ethernet cables are ideal for most businesses today because they allow your network to operate efficiently. They also set you up to work well in the future as networks continue to improve and get faster. 

How To Choose the Right Ethernet Cable 

As cables move up in number, they increase in potential speed but at a slight cost. Generally, cables higher in number are thicker, more difficult to install, and more expensive. 

To make sure a cable can support your needs, choose one that can run at the maximum speed of your network. Similarly, choose cables that are compatible with your hardware. If you use older hardware in your business, check to see what cables your devices are compatible with. 

If you opt for an earlier cable category such as 5e, your business may not be able to move forward in the coming years. Newer devices may not support other cable categories, so you’ll spend time and money updating your cables in the near future. 

Why Cat6a Cable Outperforms Cat6

As we’ve discussed previously, while similar, Cat 6a cables can run slightly faster and can cover longer distances than Cat6 cables. They are also less susceptible to interference, which can increase both speed and coverage area. Overall, this gives them better performance than Cat6 cabling. 

Cat6 and Cat6a cables both have eight copper wire conductors wrapped together into four pairs. The wires in Cat 6a cabling are wrapped tighter together, which increases the overall performance while simultaneously reducing interference. 

The only downside is that Cat 6a cables are more expensive and tend to be thick, heavy, and not very pliable. This makes them more difficult and more expensive to install. 

Is Cat6a Cable Right For Your Business? 

When it comes down to it, the right cable for your business is the best one you can afford, and it’s important not to overdo it as you’ll be wasting money with cable that is beyond your needs. 

If you need cabling that can run at 10 Gbps and up to 500 MHz, and you need those cables to cover a large area, Cat6a cabling is ideal for your business. 

Cat 6a cabling is also ideal if you need PoE, which is often used for things like security cameras or motion lighting. 

Finally, it will future-proof your network, reducing or even eliminating the chance you’ll need to re-install cable in the future. 

Read this article to learn more about Is Cat6a Cabling Right for Your Business?

Cat6a Cabling

What To Expect When Installing a High-Speed Ethernet Cable: Cat 6a

Most businesses will opt to have a network installation company install their cables, but even so, it can be helpful to know a bit about the installation process and what to expect. Many factors can affect how your installation will go, including costs and downtime.

Where is Cat 6a Cabling Installed? 

Cables are typically installed out of sight, which often means behind walls, in HVAC ducts, in ceilings, or under floors. This can get complicated, however, in historic buildings which typically have rules and restrictions you need to follow when doing any sort of renovation or installation. In these buildings, you may need more cable and installation time to get your network set up. 

In new construction or in a building that is already undergoing renovations, it may be easier to install cables. Otherwise, you should expect a bit of a mess as cables are run and your network is installed. 

Cat6a Network Cable Design 

Installation is also highly dependent on your design plan and what type of cabling already exists in your building. Before you begin the installation, it’s wise to start with a plan and a design. Decide where you want your cables run and where you need the cables to connect to devices. You can also consider any extra features you need that may be unique to your business. Talk to your network installer about what features are available and what might make sense for you. 

If you’re simply replacing older cables, your installation will likely go very smoothly. Whoever installs your network will be able to use the same cable pathways in most cases. Then, they might need to update some hardware. 

If, however, you’re installing network cables for the first time, you’ll likely spend more time in the planning and design phase. You’ll need to work with a team to determine where you want your cables to run and where you need cables to terminate so you can plug them into devices.

Before you complete your design and plan, it’s important to consider what your building might need in the future. Try to envision how you’d like to scale in the next five to ten years and plan your network with that in mind. Now is the time to install more cable and more connections than you think you need so you don’t have to repeat the installation process a few years down the road. 

Ethernet Cable Cat 6a Installation Downtime

Like other factors of your installation, the amount of downtime you’ll experience can vary widely. This can be based on other factors identified above such as building age and the presence of previous cables. 

Another factor that can affect your downtime and overall installation time is the size of your building and the intricacies of your network. A smaller building with a simple installation plan will face little downtime, while a large building that requires many ports and termination locations will take more time to install, and you’ll face more interruption to your network while installation is taking place. 

In general, Cat6a cables will always take longer to install than lesser cable categories because the cables are very thick and inflexible. The cables also cannot be turned at 90 degrees; bends or kinks in the cable can affect network performance. However, because Cat6a cables are future-proof, you won’t need to worry about more cable installation unless you decide to expand your physical space. 

Ethernet Cable Cat 6a Network Installation 

If you’re using a network installation company to plan and install your network, you won’t have to do too much work to get your network up and running. Even when you are paying somebody to install your network, however, it’s still good to know what they’re doing and what to keep in mind when planning out your network. This will help you be an informed business owner and can ensure you have the best network that meets your needs.

Cat6e and Cat6a Installation

Read this article to learn more about What To Expect When Installing a High-Speed Ethernet Cable: Cat 6a

How to Terminate Cat 6 Cabling in Commercial Buildings

Once you choose cabling for your business, understanding some basics like cable termination can be a useful skill to have. Knowing how to terminate a Cat6 cable is beneficial when you need to connect a cable endpoint to something else, such as a computer or a router. 

Terminating Cat6 Cables

Before you begin work on terminating your cables, double check that you know what type of cable you’re working with. When you look at the outer jacket of the cable, you should see the type of cable labeled. 

What Materials Do You Need To Terminate Cat6 Cable? 

You’ll need to gather a few materials to terminate your Cat6 cables, including 

  • A jacket cutter or wire stripper
  • RJ45 data plugs
  • A RJ45 crimping cool

You can also choose to gather these optional materials:

  • Wire boots
  • An Ethernet testing tool

How To Terminate Cat 6 Cable: A Step-By-Step guide

Working with one end of the cable at a time, follow these steps to terminate a Cat6 cable: 

Step 1: Measure the end of your cable and determine where you’ll strip the outer jacket, adding some extra length so you can crimp the cable when you’re done. In general, you’ll want to cut about two inches from the end of the cable. 

Step 2: Strip the outer jacket off using your jacket cutter or wire stripper. Take care to only apply a small bit of pressure when cutting the outer jacket of the cable, especially if you are using power over Ethernet (PoE). If you accidentally damage any of the wires, you can interfere with the voltage and potentially damage equipment. 

Step 3: Once you have the wires exposed, untwist each twisted pair of wires all the way to the jacket. 

Step 4: Lay the wires out in the following order from left to right: orange/white, orange, green/white, blue, blue/white, green, brown/white, brown. 

Step 5: Use your fingers or the edge of a counter or table to straighten the wires then lay them flat. 

Step 6: Keeping your wires flat, trim the ends so all of the wires are even and optionally, put wire boots on your wires. 

Step 7: Push the wires into the RJ45 data plug, keeping them in the same order. 

Step 8: Pinch the jacket of the cable and slide it into the data plug. 

Step 9:  Put the data plug in the crimper and continue to apply pressure until the crimper clicks. 

Step 10: Repeat on the other side of the cable if necessary. Read this article to learn more about How to Terminate Cat 6 Cabling in Commercial Buildings.

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The Network Installers is a low voltage electrical contractor that provides data cabling, network installation, fiberoptic installation, and WIFI installation. We've been serving commercial customers since 2008 with exceptional quality, consistency, and professionalism.

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