Cat6 and Cat6a are both Ethernet cables that support the fast operating speeds required by most businesses today. Both cable types are good options to install in modern buildings. However, if you are looking to install one of the two cable types for your business or commercial building, you should know the differences between the two so you can determine which choice is best for you.
Similarities Among Cat6 and Cat6a Cables
Before we get into the differences between Cat6 and Cat 6a cables, here’s a quick overview of how the two cable types are similar. Both cable types are designed to support high-speed networks, typically in commercial settings. Recently, some people have also opted to install Cat6 and Cat6a cables in their homes.
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. These cables can both be run at long distances while maintaining a good connection. Both cable types are relatively immune to crosstalk and interference, and they provide fast, stable, and reliable connections.
Both Cat6 and Cat6a cables can help you future-proof your business. Some earlier versions of cabling, such as Cat5, may become outdated in the near future. This means that new devices may no longer support that cable type. Cat6 and Cat6a cables, however, are likely to be supported long into the future.
Cat6 vs Cat6a Cables
First, let’s look at a quick rundown of the differences, then we’ll break each difference down in more detail.
|Cat6 Cabling||Cat6a Cabling|
|Supports networks at 1 Gbps and up to 250 MHz||Supports 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 Cat6a||Very thick, inflexible cabling that can be very difficult to install|
|Eight wires twisted into four pairs||Eight wires twisted into four pairs; wires are more tightly twisted than Cat6|
|Can be run up to 165 feet||Can be run up to 328 feet|
|Requires lower performance switches and hardware||Requires higher performance switches and hardware|
Due to the way the cables are constructed, which we’ll discuss more below, Cat6a cables can run at longer distances while supporting faster speeds than Cat6 cables. Cat6 cables can sometimes run at speeds faster than 1 GBps, but not at the maximum distance of 165 feet.
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. However, the thickness and inflexibility of this cable can make it difficult to install. 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.
Both Cat6 and Cat6a cable categories have limited interference due to tightly twisted wires and each wire pair being twisted at a different rate. The more tightly twisted wires in Cat6a allow for even less interference on Cat6a when compared to Cat6. More tightly twisted wires and better, thicker equipment allows Cat6a to be run at the longer distance of 328 feet compared to 165 feet for Cat6.
When you install Cat6a cables, you’ll need to take into account the fact that you’ll also need higher performance equipment to match. For example, you need higher performance switches. Additionally, Cat6a cables will only deliver speeds up to 10 Gbps if your network and equipment can also support those speeds.
Should I Install Cat6a Cables?
There are a few factors to consider when deciding if you should install Cat6a cables. First, take a look at your budget. Cat 6a cables are more expensive to purchase and install. If your budget is tight, Cat6 might be better for you.
Next, look at your network needs. Do you need to run cables long distances? Is reducing crosstalk and interference as much as possible important to the needs of your business? Do you need your speeds to be very fast? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then Cat6a cables would probably work best for you. If none of these factors are important, Cat6 will be a great cable.
Finally, look at your installation needs. Will you have a complicated installation plan with many twists and turns? Do you have a large area for the cables to run? Will you be installing cables in an older building that may not be designed to run cables? It’s not impossible to install Cat6a cables in difficult installation sites, but it can get complicated, which will likely drive up your overall cost. If you have a difficult installation planned and you don’t need Cat6a cables, Cat6 would probably be your best option.
Overall, of course, each situation is different. In general, Cat6a is best for large areas that need an excellent network. Cat6 is best for complicated installations or businesses that would like to save money and don’t need the faster speeds that Cat6a supports.
Finally, while Cat6 and Cat6a cables are both more future-proof than Cat5 or Cat5e cables, Cat6a cables are the most future-proof. If you want to drastically reduce the need to possibly reinstall cable in your future, Cat6a is the ideal cable choice.