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, better crosstalk shielding, and is also more expensive. Cat6 still has fast performance at a shorter distance, so which one is best for you will depend on how long your cable run needs to be, the complexity of your devices and network applications, your budget, and your data speed requirements.
For more information to help you choose between Cat6a and Cat6, keep reading!
Cat6 Ethernet Cable Speed
- 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
- 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 aren’t dealing with huge amounts of data on their networks.
10 Gbps might not sound like much, but most businesses use about 2 Gbps, and residences use less than 1 Gbps.
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.
Cat 6a Ethernet Cable Speed–and Distance
- Frequency: 500 Mhz
- Speed: 10 Gbps
- Maximum Distance: 100 meters
Cat6a is Cat6 “augmented.” It was introduced on the market as an improvement on Cat6 that is compatible with Cat6 but has faster data speed at a longer distance, as well as better shielding against crosstalk.
You’ll notice in the specs above that Cat6a has twice the bandwidth as Cat6. The higher bandwidth enables Cat6a to transmit data at the same fast speed over twice the distance as Cat6.
Physically, Cat6a cables have more twists in the conducting copper wire that forms the cable core, which gives more protection against crosstalk interference.
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.
Although the data speed for both Cat6a vs Cat6 is 10 Gbps, this is not a guaranteed data speed but more like a potential maximum speed. The real-world performance of both cables depends on how it is installed as well as the hardware it is 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 cable will be more expensive without a corresponding increase in performance.
Which Ethernet Cable Should I Use?
So, Cat6a vs Cat6: which Ethernet cable is right for you?
Here are three questions to help you figure it out:
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. You can also think about other performance issues, such as lag, crosstalk and interference, and download speeds.
Will your business ever need more bandwidth? With network installations, it’s easier and more cost-effective to plan ahead and install cables and hardware that are capable of future upgrades. If you see more data usage in your business’s future, Cat6a (or Cat7 or even fiber optic, the Cadillac of Ethernet cable) will be more expensive now, but pay for itself as your network needs increase.
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.
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 that are 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.
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.
As remote work and digital collaboration become more common, Ethernet networks prove their importance in today’s business world again and again. Hopefully this quick guide into the differences between Cat6a vs Cat6 helps clarify what you need in your network installation!