High performance data networks and local area networks (LANs) cannot perform well without appropriate cables and connectors. When we take a look at high-speed data networks like Gigabit and 10 Gigabit Ethernet, it’s hard to imagine that these data networks descended from telephone networks. LAN Technologies have evolved greatly over the years and Ethernet has become the dominant technology for LANs.
Due to the evolution of technology and the greater demand for higher networking speeds, cable and components have been developed that can transmit faster speeds over longer distances. Copper categories were introduced in order that network parameters could be clearly defined and that the appropriate connecting hardware were installed. For example, Category 3 was introduced in the later part of the 1980s and could support voice services as well as 10BASE-T Ethernet. However, this would eventually become unsuitable by the mid 1990’s as Category 5 had become widely available and was able to support faster network speeds up to100Mbps. The next wave of cable and connector development came in the form of CAT-5e, which could more effectively support Gigabit network applications. CAT-5e is an enhanced version of Category 5, however, CAT-5e standards had introduced new and more stringent crosstalk specifications, which allowed Gigabit network applications and high data transfer scenarios to function more reliably, therefore making Category 5 obsolete.
Over the last 5 to 8 years, Category 6(CAT-6) cable and connectors have become a basic requirement for new buildings in order to support Gigabit network applications and support bandwidths of up to 250MHz. Category 6A (CAT-6A) the “a” being for augmented, which supports data rates of 10G up to 100 meters and a bandwidth of up to 500MHz has begun to growing popularity. Many Data Centers, hospitals and universities have adopted CAT-6A as a new minimum requirement.
Comparison of CAT6 vs CAT6A cabling
CAT-6 cabling provides many advantages and benefits over CAT-5e cabling infrastructure. When CAT6 was first introduced it was approximately 50% more expensive than CAT-5e, which made it cost prohibitive for many installations. However, CAT-6 costs have reduced substantially over a number of years to the point where the increased cost are acceptable. CAT-6 provides greater bandwidth over CAT-5e and allows for higher data transfer rates. Therefore, CAT-6 has now become the minimum standard for new cabling installations. I believe that CAT-5e should be end of life and the standards be CAT-6 and CAT-6A. CAT-7A has been in use in Europe for some time but has not had much success here in the United States. CAT-8 is being called the classification for the next generation of twisted-pair cabling specifications, but is still in the development stages. This cable is being developed more for data centers and for 40-Gb speeds.
Augmented CAT-6 or CAT-6A as it is referred is capable of supporting data transfer rates of up to 10Gbps at a maximum bandwidth of 500MHz. CAT-6A has additional and tighter twists, with additional insulation to reduce cross talk.CAT-6A is also backwards compatible with CAT-6 and CAT-5e, however, speeds are always limited and will perform to the lowest category cable or connector that is installed in the link.CAT-6A is fast becoming the lowest cost effective solution as it is seen as a future proof cable system.CAT-6A components are used in Class EA networks as defined in ISO/IEC 11801 and TIA/EIA 568.
One of the perceived disadvantages of CAT-6A is the actual size and weight of the cable. CAT-6A was 50% larger when it originally appeared in 2008. Since then, cable sizes have been reduced and slimmed down by 10% to 20%. The additional weight increase also reduces the amount of cable that can fit into a cable tray and where you can place them. This results in larger cable tray and conduits and smaller bundle size. Increased room is also required for the cable bend radius in the cable tray, patch panel and behind a wall outlet.
Termination methods and times had also been seen to be a negative for CAT-6A installation, however, new modular jacks and outlets which can be terminated in around 2-3 minutes have reduced installation time and cost.
One of the main arguments in favor of installing CAT-6A infrastructure now, is to future proof the network. Therefore, if the planned lifetime of a new cabling system is five or more years, CAT-6A should be considered as an option. If the planned lifetime of the network is ten years or more, CAT-6A definitely appears to be the favored solution.
In fact, when considering the use of CAT6A components in a 10Gbps, Class EA network, consider the following factors:
- CAT-6A is recommended for new Installations in Healthcare
- CAT-6A is recommended for new installations in Education
- CAT-6A provides enhanced performance for Power over Ethernet (PoE)
- CAT-6A supports wireless systems that rely on 10Gig
CAT-6A – Additional factors to consider
Shielded Vs Unshielded
End users also have the option of selecting from either a shielded or an unshielded solution. Shielded CAT-6A cable generally has an outer foil shield around each individual pair or around all 4 copper pairs. In addition, modular jacks, outlets and patch panels are also protected by a metal housing around these components. Each solution has its place, as well as its own set of benefits.
CAT-6A cable is available in various configurations. Shielded and unshielded cables are often referred to as F/UTP (shielded) and U/UTP (unshielded) cable.
The first letters indicate the type of overall shield while the latter letters indicate the type of shielding on each pair and the balanced element.
CAT-6A U/UTP means the cable consists of 4 unshielded twisted pairs and no outer shielding.CAT-6A F/UTP means the cable consists of 4 unshielded twisted pairs, however, it contains an outer foil shield. This is a shielded cable. One of the latest additions to the CAT-6A shielded cable range is a U/FTP cable. This cable configuration has all four pairs individually shielded, rather than an outer foil shield. The overall test results and performance of this cable has been quite impressive.
How do you decide on which Structured Cabling System to use? How do you decide on whether to install CAT-6 or CAT-6A?
The answer to these questions are actually quite simple to answer than you may think. First off, what current applications are being utilized? What future applications do you see your organization using? What growth to your network do you expect over the next five years in terms of data transmitted and the number of users? What is the expected life of the building? Will it be 5, 10, 20 or even 25 years? Where are cabling standards heading? What is your budget or expected cost? What will the cost be, not just now, but the cost of re-installing a new network that can cope with future speeds?
There are many factors to consider when deciding on what cabling network to install. However, CAT-6A is proving to be a wise choice due to its ability to future proof against increased networking speeds. CAT-6A is available in either a shielded or unshielded solution and each option has its own place. CAT-6A is also backwards compatible with CAT-6 and CAT-5e due to the continued use of the RJ45 connector. CAT-6A is proving to be a cost effective solution for current and emerging applications as it supports higher bandwidths and 10Gbps network speeds up to 100 meters.
In addition, CAT-6A and structured cabling products can be used for applications other than voice and data, such as Building Automation, CCTV, Access Control and many others. Therefore, the potential to integrate all of these applications on to a single cabling infrastructure provides another advantage. Power requirements for the newer 802.11ac-certified APs, however, present a new wrinkle. Designers should consider running at least two Category 6A cables to each access point. This strategy can provide backup or redundant communications and PoE power from two different backhaul sources, allowing the AP to continue functioning should a switch or PoE source go down. This is extremely important should you have dual port access points as well. Many cabling and connectivity manufactures have been or are currently testing to 100 watts of PoE power which will demand CAT-6A wiring due to the heat that will travel down the wire. Next-generation powered devices, such as wireless access points and large-display HDTVs, will require greater bandwidth than Gigabit Ethernet and more delivered power, so designers need to build networks with these future needs in mind.
If you would like to know more or would like assistance in designing or choosing the right cabling infrastructure, contact your Account Executive at www.taylored.com. We have two BICSI RCDD’s on staff to help you design your structured cabling solutions.