Cat6a vs Cat6: What’s the Difference?

Cat6a vs cat6

According to the Telecommunications Industry Association, choosing the suitable cable type can make a big difference when setting up internet connections.

Two common choices are Cat6 and Cat6a. They might seem alike, but they have some important differences.

Today, we will compare Cat6a vs Cat6 cables side by side to see which one might be better for your needs.

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Comparing Cat6a & Cat6

Cat6A cables offer higher performance switches than Cat6 cables, primarily due to their higher speed capabilities. Cat6A cables boast a minimum speed of 500 MHz, enabling them to support data transmission rates of up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) over distances of up to 328 feet (100 meters). 

In contrast, Cat6 cables have a maximum data rate of 250 MHz, limiting their ability to sustain 10 Gbps speed to just 165 feet (55 meters) under ideal conditions. In environments with heavy crosstalk, the effective range of Cat6 cables may be even shorter. 

Both shielded cables provide great performance at a reasonable price point, but Cat6a has the edge on fast data speeds at a greater distance, better crosstalk shielding structure, and is more expensive. 

Cat6 still offers fast performance at a shorter distance, so which one is best for you will depend on the length of your cable run, the complexity of your devices and network applications, your budget, and your data speed requirements.

Cat6 Ethernet Cable Speed & Distance

  • Frequency: 250 MHz
  • Speed: 10 Gbps
  • Maximum Distance: 55 meters

Cat6 is standard in many new installations as well as network remodels because it is:

  • Compatible with older hardware
  • Cost-effective
  • It has a much higher data speed than Cat5 (the old Ethernet cable standard)

Though it isn’t as fast as Cat6a, to say nothing of fiber optic, Cat6 is generally more than fast enough for businesses that need a fast and reliable Internet or VOIP connection but don’t deal with huge amounts of data on their networks.

Another feature of Cat6 is better shielding than earlier Cat5 or Cat6e cables, which reduces crosstalk between different cables and means less interference on the network.

Cat6a Ethernet Cable Speed & Distance

  • Frequency: 500 Mhz
  • Speed: 10 Gbps
  • Maximum Distance: 100 meters

Cat6a is Cat6 “augmented or an advanced version .” It was introduced on the market as an improvement on Cat6, which is compatible with Cat6 but has faster data speed at a longer distance and better shielding against crosstalk.

The specs above show that Cat6a has twice the capacity of Cat6. The higher bandwidth enables Cat6a to transmit data at the same fast speed, which is twice the capability of Cat6. 

Physically, Cat6a cables have more twists in the conducting copper wire that forms the core, which gives more protection against crosstalk interference. However, Cat6a requires more room and is more difficult to install.

Hardware Considerations

Although the data speed for both Cat6a and Cat6 is 10 Gbps, this is not a guaranteed data speed; it is more like a potential maximum speed. The real-world performance of Cat6 and Cat6a cables depends on how installed and the hardware they are paired with.

Why? Because not all hardware is built to be capable of 10 Gbps speed. This is especially true if your current network hardware is based around Cat5 cable, which has a miserly max speed of 1 Gbps.

Even if you don’t need all 10 Gbps and are aiming more for a network standard of 5 Gbps, you’ll still need to invest in servers, Ethernet switches, and patch panels that can handle the higher speed–otherwise, your Cat6 or Cat6a will be more expensive without a corresponding increase in performance.

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Types of Ethernet Cables

UTP ethernet cables consist of four twisted pairs and don’t have any shielding. However, they typically feature symmetrical pairs and a balanced design to minimize NEXT (Near-end crosstalk).

U/FTP (Unshielded with foiled twisted pair) is an Ethernet cable lacking outer shielding. However, each twisted pair within the cables are individually shielded with individual foil screen.

F/UTP (Oiled with unshielded twisted pairs) indicates four unshielded twisted pairs enclosed by an outer foil shield.

SF/FTP (Shielded and foiled with foiled twisted pairs) offers top-notch protection against interference for cables. Foil-shielded twisted pairs feature both a braid and foil shielding structure and foiled twisted pairs, ensuring maximum shielding against external disturbances.

S/FTP (Shielded with foiled twisted pairs) is a shielded structure that incorporates four twisted pairs, each individually shielded with foil. It also has an overall outer braid screen that shields the entire cable.

Table of Comparison

Common UsageCAT6CAT6A
Home NetworkX
Phone LinesX
Data CenterX
Office Network
Features/SpecsCAT6CAT6A
Potential Bandwidth (per sec)1Gb10Gb
Time to transfer 1 Terabyte3 hours20 minutes
Data Transmission1000 BASE-TX10GBASE-T
Connector TypeRJ45 8P8C (for CAT6)RJ45 (for CAT6A)
Frequency Range Minimum0 – 250 MHz0 – 500 MHz
Frequency Maximum500 MHz600 MHz
Performance Distance328 Feet328 Feet
Alt. Distance10Gb 180ft

Which Ethernet Cable Should I Use?

cat6 and cat6a

What are My Data Speed Needs Now?

Find a baseline for your current data speed, and let that inform you and your installer about your future network speeds. You can also consider other performance issues, such as lag, crosstalk interference, and download speeds.

Will your business ever need more bandwidth? With network installations, planning and installing cables and hardware capable of future upgrades is easier and more cost-effective.

What Distance Do I Need My Network Cable to Cover?

The main difference between Cat6 and Cat6a is the data speed over distance. If you have a network topography with data ports over 55 meters from the server, Cat6a will help increase performance tremendously–faster Internet, downloads, file sharing, etc.

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.

is a cat 6 cable an ethernet cable

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 face data speed struggles down the road.

Future Upgrade Considerations

There are two main scenarios in which opting for Cat6A cable over Cat6 is advantageous:

If you anticipate upgrading to 10 Gbps speed, particularly for longer distances of up to the maximum distance supported by Cat6A, which is 328 feet.

When installing the cable in locations where replacing it with higher specification cable would be prohibitive, even in the foreseeable future.

FAQs

What are the disadvantages of Cat6a cable?

While Cat6a offers significant advantages, such as higher data speeds and better performance, it also has some drawbacks. 

Cat6a cables tend to be thicker and less flexible than Cat6 cables, making installation more challenging, especially in tight spaces. 

Additionally, Cat6a cables are generally more expensive than Cat6 cables, even if they are backward compatible. 

Can I use the Cat6 plug on the Cat6a cable?

Technically, you can use a Cat6 plug on a Cat6a cable, as both cables use the same RJ45 connectors. However, it’s important to note that Cat6a cables have stricter specifications for crosstalk and interference. 

Key Takeaways

Ethernet cable is the backbone of today’s wired networks, and most people commonly use Cat6 and Cat6a as their ethernet cables.

As remote work and digital collaboration become more common, Ethernet networks continue to prove their importance in today’s business world.

Hopefully, this quick guide to the differences between Cat6 and Cat6a will help clarify what you need in your network installation. If you need more information, contact the team at The Network Installers.

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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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