Cat6e vs Cat6a Ethernet Cable: What’s the Difference?

the difference cat6, cat6e, cat6a

CAT6e and CAT6a are based on CAT6 cable and are advertised as having greater speed and longer runs.

However, they are not identical, and CAT6a 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.

Want to know more about the specifics? Let’s compare the key differences between CAT6e and CAT6a Ethernet cables.

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Comparing CAT6e & CAT6a

Cat6e cables are engineered to facilitate speeds of up to 10 Gigabit ethernet per second (Gbps) across short distances, usually extending up to 55 meters. Conversely, Cat6a cables can uphold speeds of 10 Gbps over greater distances, typically up to 100 meters.

Additionally, Cat6a cables typically feature tighter specifications for crosstalk and interference, resulting in superior performance and reliability, albeit at a potentially higher cost than Cat6e cables. 

What Do the Letters Mean?

“CAT6” is short for “Category 6” cable, and the “CAT6e” stands for Category 6 “enhanced version.” Although any technical organization (like the Telecommunications Industry Association) does not formally recognize this type of cable, manufacturers still produce it as a unique cable class that matches the bandwidth and data speed capabilities of regular CAT6 cable. It has better shielding to resist radio interference and crosstalk.

“CAT6a” stands for Category 6 “advanced version.” This cable has formal technical recognition and is widely accepted by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). CAT6a cable is an improved version because it has better performance, data speed, and a slightly longer run than regular CAT6 cable.

Technical Comparison

Distance

Both CAT6e and CAT6a have a maximum of 100 meters or 328 feet. After this length, data speed drops off in shorter distances, and the cable is no longer functional. This is double the length that a recognized standard CAT6 cable can run.

Jacketing & Shielding

Both CAT6e and CAT6a cables come with different outer jacketing to suit a range of installation settings, including plenum, in-wall, riser, and non-riser spaces.

Both can also be found in shielded and unshielded grades, but Cat6a has better shielding. Shielded cable is required in installations where the Ethernet cable is adjacent to HVAC and/or high-voltage wiring and is close to a generator or electrical motor.

Frequency

While each cable transmits at a higher frequency than CAT6’s 250MHz, CAT6a is the clear winner, with a transmission frequency of up to 600MHz. 

While CAT6e is backward compatible with Cat6A, it is advertised as having transmission speeds up to 500MHz because it lacks a formal specification. The cable’s actual speed is dependent on how it is installed. Thus, CAT6e speeds vary between 250MHz and 500MHz.

Data Speed

CAT6a cable has a maximum data speed of 10 Gbps for up to 100 meters, 9 Gbps more than regular CAT6 cable. It can transfer 1 Terabyte of data in 20 minutes.

CAT6e can reach the same data speed. Like the transmission frequency, its speed will vary depending on cable termination and cable testing of each specific installation. 

A CAT6e cable can transfer 1 Terabyte of data in 3 hours, which is equal to the time it takes for a standard CAT6 cable to transfer the same amount of data.

For both types of ethernet cables, crosstalk and interference will impact transmitting data.

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Uses

CAT6e is commonly found in home networks and residential and office phone lines. At the same time, CAT6a is commonly used in office ethernet networks, data centers, and high-end residences because of its signal quality.

Cost of Installation

Cat6e and Cat6a Cable Installation

Generally, higher-speed cable costs more to install. This is true of CAT6e and CAT6a for slightly divergent but related reasons.

As we’ve said, CAT6e cable has no official specification and is not widely accepted. Its performance is dependent on the equipment used in the installation and the installer’s expertise in optimizing data speed.

Similarly, CAT6a cable can only reach its full potential if the equipment it is paired with–patch panels, switches, networking hardware–can also support data speeds up to 10 Gbps. If, instead, it is used with hardware that maxes out at a lower data speed, then you’ll be paying for a more expensive cable.

CAT6a cable is also heavier and less flexible than CAT6 and CAT6e cable, which makes it more difficult to install. It can carry more data at faster speeds for longer runs, so it is a necessary trade-off.

Table of Comparison

Common UsageCAT6eCAT6A
Home NetworkX
Phone LinesX
Data Center
Office Network
Features/SpecsCAT6eCAT6A
Potential Bandwidth (per sec)1Gb10Gb
Time to transfer 1 Terabyte3 hours20 minutes
Data TransmissionExceeds 1000 BASE-TX10GBASE-T
Connector TypeRJ45 (for CAT6e)RJ45 (for CAT6A)
Frequency Range Minimum0 – 250 MHz0 – 500 MHz
Frequency Maximum550 MHz600 MHz
Performance Capabilities328 Feet328 Feet
Alt. Distance10Gb 180ft

Thinking About Future Upgrade?

Most people don’t want to yank out their old Ethernet cable matrix and install a new one with upgraded cable every ten years. Aside from being a tedious hassle, another difference is that it is cost-prohibitive in many cases.

However, as data speeds continue to increase and Ethernet networks play an ever-more-important role in business and communication, most people recognize that manufacturers will need to increase their data capabilities in the future to accommodate higher bandwidths.

In this case, CAT6a is the better choice for a one-time installation that pays long-term dividends. Its reliability in maximum distance, as well as its higher bandwidth, usually exceeds the current needs of most customers and thus allows room for future network infrastructure expansion for new devices.

Plus, if you ever need to update the CAT6a cable to a higher bandwidth, you’ll already have switches, patch panels, network infrastructure, and hardware that supports higher data speeds, so your cost to upgrade will be much reduced.

FAQs

Is Cat6e faster than Cat6a?

No, Cat6e and Cat6a cables can support speeds up to 10 Gigabit ethernet per second (Gbps). Although backward compatible, Cat6a cables are generally considered to offer better performance over longer distances due to their enhanced version.

Are Cat6a cables thicker than Cat6e cables?

Yes, Cat6a cables often have thicker insulation than those with the enhanced category. The thickness of ethernet cables is due to their increased shielding properties compared to Cat6e cables.

Conclusion

CAT6e looks pretty good on the surface, with its advertised data and lower price point, but our preference for business is CAT6a cable. CAT6a has a specific technical designation with the TIA, whereas CAT6e is more of a marketing term with its differences.

Although CAT6a is more expensive than CAT6 or CAT6e, it offers great utility with its fast and reliable data speeds even at longer distances and the possibilities it provides for future network expansion without the hassle of new cable installation.

If you need more information, contact The Network Installers today.

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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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