The Pros and Cons of Cat6 versus Cat6a Data Cabling

Cat6 CableThe role of Cat6a cabling is to support 10Gig Ethernet, whereas Cat6 will currently only support Gigabit Ethernet, except for short links.  There are some disadvantages to Cat6a and you need to weigh these up for any particular application. A Cat6a installation will on average cost you about 50% more than Cat6. However, the main issue, and another influence on the overall cost, is that the cable and containment will need to be approximately double to cross-section. This includes risers, voids, cable trays, cable baskets, floor ducting and perimeter trunking, the minimum bend radius of installed Cat6a is upwards of 30mm.

If it’s for a new building or your premises are undergoing a major refit, it is easy enough to specify larger pathways and containment for your cabling systems. If, however, you’re hoping to use existing containment and pathways, you may have to think again because the cost and disruption may make Cat6a unjustifiable.

You need to ask yourself whether, for the life of the cabling, will you ever need it to support 10Gig Ethernet? Whether it’s a backbone link, it's serving a wireless AP, it's in a data centre or it is likely to be in use for over ten years, the answer is more likely to be yes. Bear in mind that 10Gig active hardware will be more expensive than Gigabit hardware but the cost has come done considerably in recent years.

The IEEE 2.5GBASE-T and 5GBASE-T standards, providing faster link via short distances of Cat6, have been ratified in 2016. These are primarily intended for cabling to wireless access points.

You can save money by using Cat5e cords if you’re not yet implementing 10Gig Ethernet but some manufacturers only give a “channel link” warranty that, by definition, includes the cords.

Most Cat6a cabling systems are shielded and it is crucial that the buildings earth system is of a very high standard and that the cabling system is earth bonded by competent electricians. Good earthing ensures that high frequency noise is removed from the system via the shielding and helps prevent alien crosstalk between adjacent cables. If your earth system is not of a high standard, you may need to invest in some improvements.