The options for telecommunication cables have expanded rapidly since the Internet became a major element in homes and business. Despite the presence of Cat7 cables and fiber optic cables on the market, Cat6a, or Category 6 augmented cable, remains one of the most widely-used types of cable in both residential and commercial networks. This is thanks to Cat6a’s reliable speed and performance, reduced interference and crosstalk, and its price point.
Cat6a has a max speed of 10 Gigabits per second at 5000 MHz at a distance of up to 100 meters (328 feet). It has more speed over a longer distance with less crosstalk than its parent Cat6 cable.
In this article we’ll explain how Cat6a speed hits those numbers, what “Gbps” actually means in practice, and what Cat6a speed means for a wired Ethernet network.
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. It’s on the higher end of data speeds:
- Kilobit – One kilobit is equal to 1,000 bits per second (Kbps)
- Megabit – One megabit is equal to 1,000 Kbps or one million bits per second (Mbps)
- Gigabit – One gigabit is equal to 1,000 Mbps, one million Kbps or one billion bits per second (Gbps)
To put that in perspective, 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 Gigabit per second (2 million kilobits per second), and often more depending on the industry. We’ve come a long way with data speeds!
As we mentioned above, Cat6a cable does transmit 10 Gbps, which is literally ten times the amount of data that Cat5 cable can transmit. Cat6e cable can also transmit data at that speed for longer distances than just plain Cat6 cable, thanks to its thicker copper wiring.
Speeds of 10 Gbsp 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 the speed of Internet browsing, downloading, email clients, collaborative software, and filesharing.
It’s the difference between moving cargo in a pickup on surface streets versus in a semi truck on the highways.
Another thing to note is that “Gbps” is often further abbreviated to just “G”, as in 10G or 2.5G, especially on network hardware, which we’ll touch on next.
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.
We’ll briefly cover the key hardware considerations you or your installer should look for to make sure that your Cat6a speed is reliably hitting those 10 Gigabits per second.
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 it can’t support 2.5G or 5G speeds.
This is obviously pretty limiting, so it’s best to simply get a NBASE-T switch that covers all the intermediate speeds as well.
Although it is used in Cat5 and Cat6 cabling, the RJ45 jack is not appropriate for Cat6a terminations–they’ll slow the speed down.
Instead, there are specific Cat6a keystone jacks that are able to 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.
Internet Service Provider speed
Although this isn’t technically hardware, the size and speed of your ISP package will obviously limit the speed of your network.
For example, a network with a 1 Gbps download speed package from its ISP cannot reach the max 100 Gbps, regardless of how high a cable grade it employs. It’s limited from the outside.
The cable grade can make data transfer across the local network faster, but it won’t increase internet or download speeds.
So a network that invests in Cat6a also needs to upgrade its ISP service package accordingly!
Cat6a speed: Is this the right cable for me?
Cat6a is a really useful cable for many commercial applications. Its 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.
The best way to tell if Cat6 cable is right for you is to evaluate your current data usage, and think about what kind of data speeds your business will need 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.