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Cat6 vs. Cat6a: 4 Key Differences and Full Comparison

types of cables

Cat6 vs. Cat6a: 4 Key Differences and Full Comparison

Key Points

  • Cat6a cables can provide better performance in environments with a high density of cables and lots of high-bandwidth applications.
  • Cat6a can provide 10 Gb/s over a 110-meter distance, whereas Cat6 degrades over 55 meters.
  • Cat6a cables are thicker and heavier, making them harder to fit into tight spaces.
  • Upgrading to Cat6a can be more expensive due to the materials used and the need for additional hardware and switches.
  • Cat6a cables are more suited to data centers and large office networks, while Cat6 cables are suitable for home and small business networks.

The world of technology moves fast, so it can be difficult to decide on when (and if) to upgrade. You want the best performance possible for your network, and choosing between Cat6 and Cat6a cables can have a huge influence on your network speed and interference. But what are the exact differences between these Ethernet cables, and is it always worth upgrading to Cat6a? We’re going to compare Cat6 vs. Cat6a fully. This way, you can decide which cable type is the right choice for your needs.

Cat6 vs. Ca6a: Side-By-Side Comparison

CategoryCat6Cat6a
Bandwidth10Gb/s10Gb/s
Frequency250MHz500MHz
Max distance55m110m
InstallationEasierMore difficult
PriceCheaperMore expensive
UsesBusinesses that need a reliable connection but don’t transmit large amounts of dataBusinesses that use automation, CCTV, and PoE applications, data centers
Introduced20012018

Cat6 vs. Ca6a: What’s the Difference?

We’ve provided a brief overview of the differences between these cable types above. But to provide you with a deeper explanation of what sets these cables apart, we’re going to look at the factors in closer detail next.

Performance

Of course, performance is a priority for all of us when choosing network components. And this is one of the areas where Cat6a is most distinct from Cat6. Ca6a can transmit signals over a higher frequency, which has a great impact on transfer speeds, particularly over large distances. In addition, the greater frequency of Cat6a cuts down on interference (also called “crosstalk”) between cables in high-density areas.

While the maximum bandwidth for Cat6 is the same as Cat6a (10 Gb/s), due to the enhanced shielding and broader frequency range, Cat6a improves on Cat6, especially at long distances. Whereas Cat6 has a maximum distance of 55 meters before you experience signal degradation and slower speeds, Cat6a’s distance is up to 110 meters. Essentially, this means that in noisy environments with lots of applications running at high bandwidths, Cat6a will perform better than Cat6. But in small business or home environments, and those where you don’t need to run a cable over a long distance, Cat6 cables will usually be more than enough.

cat6a cables are better suited for data centers than cat6
In high-density environments like data centers, Cat6a will provide better performance and enhanced shielding.

Structure

There are many different structures of cables you can buy, but generally, Cat6a cables are heavier and thicker than Cat6. This is partly due to the larger copper conductors used, which help to support the higher transfer rates, but also due to thicker jackets for better protection. Although the cables are twisted tighter with Cat6a, overall, they’re still a heftier cable. This does have the benefit of providing Cat6a with a greater bend radius, however, meaning they can be bent to a higher degree than Cat6 without being damaged. Over the years, Cat6a cables have got lighter and thinner, but they’re still usually around 40% larger than Cat6. Naturally, this cuts down on how many cables you can fit into a space, and how you can position them.

In contrast, Cat6 cables are thinner and lighter, but have a smaller bend radius. Still, it’s usually easier to fit them into more compact environments. If your space is tight, and you only have short distances to cover, Cat6 will probably be sufficient.

It’s worth saying that both types of cables have eight copper wires twisted into four pairs. They can also be unshielded or shielded. Cables can have one of six structures, depending on whether the cables are individually shielded with foil, wrapped into an external foil shield, covered with an outer braid, or some combination of these.

Installation

As briefly mentioned, Cat6a cables are thicker and weightier than their cat6 counterparts. Therefore, the installation of Cat6a tends to be trickier. While Cat6A cables can be bent more, they’re less flexible. In addition, you may need specific tools that are Cat6a-compatible, i.e., crimping tools. Terminating the cables is also harder to get right. To install Cat6a successfully, you’ll need someone with expertise in this area. If you don’t have someone on staff, then it’s a smart idea to outsource this job.

In either case, you’re going to want to be careful with installation, paying particular attention to handling the cables gently. It’s a good idea to keep your workspace tidy and to test the cables for wiring issues when finished. While Cat6 cables are relatively simpler to install, they still require care and the correct process. If you’re unsure, it’s best to ask someone who knows what they’re doing.

Price

Unsurprisingly, Cat6a cables are more expensive than Cat6. Cat6a use pricier materials and extra materials compared to Cat6, to allow for their enhanced performance capacity and shielding. In addition, you may have additional costs when it comes to upgrading connectors and other network components. To take advantage of the boost in speed, you’ll likely need to purchase extra hardware and switches. And if you need to outsource installation, this will run your costs even higher. It’s worth noting that your system is only as fast as the slowest components. Therefore, while Cat6 and Cat6a can both make use of RJ45 connectors, if you have Cat6 cables in your system you won’t see the upgrade in performance you hope for by adding Cat6a cables. If you need to overhaul your network completely, this can cost a small fortune.

On the other hand, although moving to Cat6a can appear very costly, it may be the more cost-effective option in some situations. If you intend on using and growing your network over years to come, it may be cheaper in the long run to upgrade your system now, rather than have to re-install everything at a later date.

Cat6 cable
While Cat6a is a potential improvement, Cat6 may be sufficient, depending on your needs.

Cat6 vs. Ca6a: 7 Must-Know Facts

  1. Cat6a cables can give better performance in environments with a high density of cables and lots of high-bandwidth applications
  2. Although top speeds are the same for both cable types, Cat6a can provide 10 Gb/s over a 110-meter distance, whereas Cat6 degrades over 55 meters
  3. Cat6a cables are more expensive due to the materials used, and installation is more difficult
  4. Cat6a cables are thicker and heavier, so it’s harder to fit them into tight spaces
  5. Your system will only be as fast as the slowest components. You need to upgrade everything to Cat6a to take advantage of the speed
  6. Both cables can have various levels of shielding, depending on whether the twisted pairs are individually foiled, wrapped in an outer foil shield, or covered in an outer braid
  7. Cat6a cables are more suited to environments such as data centers and large office networks. Cat6 cables are suitable for home and small business networks

Cat6 vs. Ca6a: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?

Whether you go with Cat6 or Cat6a largely depends on your current and anticipated future needs. If it’s relatively cheap for you to re-install your network at a later date, and you don’t have lots of cables in use, then Cat6 might be a good option. This is especially true if you’re installing a home network, where you aren’t sending as much data. Cat6 will provide a reliable and cost-effective solution in this case. However, if you’re installing a larger office network, or maintaining a data center, you may need the enhanced performance and longer distances made possible by Cat6a. If the costs of re-installation are appreciably high, and you want to make sure your components are future-proof for a long time, the cost of Cat6a might be justified. In this situation, it’ll likely be cheaper in the long run to install Cat6a now.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Cat6 and Cat6a?

Cat6 (Category 6) and Cat6a (Category 6 augmented) are standards for Ethernet cables used in Ethernet networks. Both have a similar internal structure, using twisted pairs of copper wires. They’re used to provide a reliable connection between network components.

What's the difference between Cat6 and Cat6a?

The main difference is that Cat6a cables operate over a broader frequency range (500MHz as opposed to 250MHz), and usually have extra shielding thanks to thicker materials. Although the transfer speed for both cable types is up to 10Gb/s, Cat6a can provide this over a longer distance due to the aforementioned factors. These cables are more expensive, however, and harder to install.

Which one is better, Cat6 or Cat6a?

Overall, Cat6a is considered superior to Cat6. This is due to its enhanced shielding, sturdier materials, and ability to transmit signals over a greater distance. However, not every scenario calls for using Cat6a, and in many situations, you may not see much difference at all between the two.

Who is Cat6 suitable for?

Cat6 is best for smaller environments with a lower density of cables, such as small business or home networks. If you don’t need to transmit data over a distance greater than 55 meters, and you don’t anticipate much interference, then you probably won’t see much improvement by using Cat6a. Therefore, Cat6 will likely be the more cost-effective choice.

When should you use Cat6a?

Although Cat6 is great for lots of situations, if you’re running a big office network or a data center, Cat6a is the better choice. This is because you want to cut down on crosstalk between adjacent cables as much as possible, and there’s a good chance you need to send data over a longer distance. Cat6a cables can provide speeds of up to 10 Gb/s over a distance of 110 meters, which makes them the ideal choice for larger environments. If your network uses a lot of bandwidth, and you intend to grow it in the future, Cat6a also provides a longer-term solution than Cat6.

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