Cat 6A | The Future For One-Cable Installations Delivering More Power and Greater BandwidthRita Mailheau
While Cat5e and Cat6 Ethernet Cabling are still considered by many to be excellent solutions for cabling installations, and less costly than Cat6A, there are definitely good reasons why Cat6A is a much more desirable option to support the upcoming advances in Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology.
Cost is always a driving factor when putting together a bid, and there’s nothing to say bids cannot be hybrid configurations the include Cat5e and Cat6 along with the more robust Cat6a. But if a contractor has the option to present Cat6A as the better cable choice to customers, he or she will eventually be proven right, and maybe sooner than he thinks.
It’s true that for some customers, low cost is always going to be a deciding factor in the type of install they want. But as you read this article you’ll see that there are some very sound reasons for making a better decision now. Here are a few:
- Type 4 PoE technology is going to need a more robust cable to deliver higher levels of power.
- Cable installation technologies need to be able to outdistance 2-3 technology refresh cycles.
- Industry standards say it takes up to 10 years to re-cable an entire building, and a customer may end up having to re-cable if he has the wrong product. A less expensive product may end up costing more than it would have if the customer had chosen a better product now.
In this article, PLANET is going to present a few comparisons to help readers understand why investment in Cat6A is actually going to provide a much better return on their investment for years to come.
Begin at Gbps delivery rates
Cat5e cables (24 gauge twisted pair) can transmit Gigabit signals and support distances up to 100m (328 feet). That capability holds true even when the rest of the distance is run using Ethernet cables from the switch to a device. Cat6 and Cat6a cables (23 gauge twisted pair) are thicker.
- Cat5e is 24AWG cable
- Cat6 and Cat6a is 23AWG cable
The gauge of cable translates to quality and the ability to support electron currents as they flow down the wire. Thinner cables provide less flow and the signal tends to disperse. Cat5e is actually thinner than Cat6 and Cat6A. Wider diameter cables reduce resistance and allow more room for electrons to pass through.
Cable gauge is not the only feature to consider in choosing a cable, the tightness of the twist is also important. That’s because it helps keep out crosstalk. Shielding is another “ingredient” that affects performance but let’s continue with the discussion about Gbps.
While Cat5e can deliver 1 Gbps speeds, Cat6 can deliver ten times that. A 10 Gigabit network will perform better than it’s predecessor, but only to distances of 164 feet—a little under half of the 100m Ethernet standard. That’s certainly not going to be a problem when connecting LANs that have a small footprint, let’s say one side of a floor in an office building or college lab.
Once you get past that distance, though, the investment for higher data rates is lost and the performance is the same as Cat5e cable. The other benefit to Cat6 is the 2-way signal transmission capabilities on either set of twisted pair wires. Cat5e doesn’t have this ability. Cat6 has a tighter twist, which enables signals to travel both ways.
Cabling can have a shield or plastic “sheet” in the cable designed to prevent crosstalk. Crosstalk is interference and that is why shielded cable is used to prevent further weakening of signals.
Now we get to Cat 6a. It is also 23 gauge. The reasons are:
- Wire have thick plastic casings
- Copper is wound more tightly resulting in more copper per inch
Cat 6a is more robust than Cat6. It supports 10 Gigabit per second networking for the full distance of Ethernet (100 meters) and can have two-times the bandwidth.
Cat6a is more future-proof
One rule of thumb that network designers want to plan into their cabling designs is the ability to weather technology refreshes. The standard, though, is to design 2-3 refresh cycles into a network. The tipping point for cablers now is the newly-ratified Type 4 PoE (IEEE 802.3bt) technologies.
Type 4 [4-pair PoE] is right on the cusp of 100W of power budget per device at 90-95W.
Cat6 can deliver 10Gbps at 164ft. compared to Cat6a which can deliver 10Gbps at a distance of 328ft.
SUPPORTS HIGHER BANDWIDTH TECHNOLOGIES
Automated and sensor-driven environments will benefit from the ability to deliver more data to an increasingly connected infrastructure.
Final thoughts about Cat6A
Cat 6a has been a mainstay of new builds, while both Cat5e and Cat6 are still doing a great job supporting networks for residential and business class IT. But as the horizon line is shifting, and a greater number of devices connect to networks, and indeed the Internet, the power budgets will be pushed higher and add stress to earlier cabling versions. Two-way signal paths and more bandwidth are also going to be essential to providing enough speed to IoT end users and devices.
The idea for this article came because of the new IEEE 802.3bt standard that was recently ratified though some of the details are still being sorted. The announcement is pending.
Existing is existing
Cat5e and Cat6 still have plenty to offer for the time being, and knowing the Ethernet development community, they will continue to find ways to take full advantage of existing infrastructure. These technologies will no doubt continue to come our way.
That said, customers need to know why the added cost of Cat6A, though more expensive now, is going to be the absolute best solution for their installation. Here are some of the reasons.
- Current bandwidth requirements are inching upward.
- Future bandwidth and power requirements will be higher.
- Addition of more end users onto networks will exponentially drive data demands in comparison to current levels.
- How much existing cabling infrastructure exists and can it be replaced in segments?
The RJ45 connector allows IT teams the luxury of piecing together networks with different cabling. Installers can always prioritize the Cat6A solution for deployments where Type 4 devices and networks will be needed first.
If you need additional insight for an installation or network deployment, feel free to contact us. Our team of IT experts are always happy to assist you.