Shielded vs Unshielded Cat6a: How to Choose?

November 2, 2016

The move to Cat6a twisted-pair copper cabling has been driven by several factors, including the support for 10GbE networks, Power over Ethernet (PoE) adoptions, and wireless access points (APs) applications. Cat6a cables are gaining popularity as users are demanding higher bandwidth and better performance. Shielded vs. unshielded Cat6a, how to choose these two Cat6 network cable types? What are the differences between Cat6a shielded vs Cat6a unshielded?

Cat6a Cable: The Now and Future for 10G Cabling

Cat6a cable, aka Category 6a cable, is capable of supporting data transfer rates of up to 10Gbps at a maximum bandwidth of 500MHz. Cat6a patch cable has additional and tighter twists with additional insulation to reduce crosstalk. Backward compatible with Cat6 Cable & Cat5e Cable. (Speeds are limited and will perform to the lowest category cable or connector that is installed in the link.)

Cat6a is becoming a cost-effective solution as it is seen as a future-proof cable solution. If the planned lifetime of a new cabling system is five or more years, the Cat6a cabling solution should be considered as an option. If it is ten years or more, adopting Cat6a definitely appears to be the favored solution, which is recommended for new installations in education, healthcare, etc., supporting wireless systems that rely on 10Gig and provide enhanced performance for PoE.

Cat6a Cabling for 10GBASE-T

Cat6a Shielded vs. Unshielded: What Are the Differences?

Basically, Cat6a cable comes into two flavors in terms of shielding types: shielded twisted pair cable (STP) and unshielded twisted pair cable (UTP). Both unshielded twisted pair vs shielded twisted pair Cat6a cables are designed to provide reliable connectivity of electronic equipment but differ in design, manufacture, and performance.

Cat6a Unshielded Cable

Cat6a unshielded twisted pair cables are twisted into 4 sets of pairs. Each bare copper conductor is insulated and color-coded. Each bundle of Cat6a unshielded cables is bundled under an overall jacket such as PVC, and each pair of cables has a different twist rate in order to minimize crosstalk within the cable. Cat6a UTP cable is simple to terminate since no shielding and the drain wire are involved, which will reduce the termination time and cost.

Cat6a Unshielded Cable

Cat6a Shielded Cable

Cat6a shielded twisted pair cable has a shield in cables to prevent electromagnetic interference (EMI) or radio-frequency interference (RFI) from affecting the performance of the cable. It also prevents cable signals from interfering with surrounding cables and equipment. Properly installed Cat6a shielded cables automatically curb EMI and crosstalk, helping to ensure data integrity and high-speed performance. The Cat6a shielded cables must be grounded to work.

Note: if you choose shielded cables, there's no mix-and-match; everything connected to a shielded cable must also be shielded and grounded (like couplers, jacks, or even network controllers). You can't connect the shielded and unshielded cables.

Cat6a Shielded Cable

Abbreviations frequently used to describe Cat6a cable shielding, FYI:

  • U = Unshielded

  • F = Foil Shield

  • S= Braided Shield

  • TP = Twisted Pair

Cat6a FUTP vs UUTP vs UFTP

According to the ISO/IEC standards, the first letter shows the type of overall shield while the latter points to the type of shielding on each pair. For example, F/UTP, "F" describes the overall shielding type, "U" indicates the shielding of the pairs, "TP" means the twisted pairs. Explore more about Cat6a shielding from the chart below:

Acronym Description Cable Shielding Pair Shielding
UTP or U/UTP Unshielded Twisted Pair None None
F/UTP Overall Foil Shield AL Foil None
U/FTP Each Pair Shielded None AL Foil
S/FTP Each Pair Shielded + Overall Braid Shield TC Braid AL Foil
SF/UTP Overall Foil Shield + Overall Braid Shield AL Foil + TC Braid None
F/FTP Overall Foil Shield + Each Pair Shielded AL Foil AL Foil

Cat6a Shielded vs. Unshielded Cable: How to Make Your Choice?

When choosing Ethernet cables for your home or business network, evaluate the environment & cost to select the appropriate shielded or unshielded cables that meet your network needs.

In homes or small businesses, unshielded Cat6a cables usually work fine unless your home or office sits near power lines or is stuffed with appliances. Typically, there isn't too much interference around a home or small business environment to require shielded Ethernet cables. In more complicated environments for larger businesses, such as those with a lot of heavy machinery, elevators, and fluorescent lights that may generate more intense EMI, it's advisable to use shielded Cat6a cables, which won't reduce speed and data transmission quality. Generators, air conditioners, and printers can also cause EMI. Therefore, shielded twisted pair cables that fit those complex environments are normally regarded as an excellent choice for industrial environments and healthcare facilities.

When weighing shielded vs. unshielded Cat6a cables, expenses won't be neglected. Cat6a shielded cabling is more expensive than its unshielded alternative and more difficult to install; it's stiffer, making it less flexible. Cat6a unshielded cabling, on the other hand, is cheaper to purchase, more flexible, easier to install, and doesn't require grounding. Cost isn't just the price of the cable—it may also take form in the value of the speed and security of your network, which makes shielded cable seem more like a bargain.

Do I need STP Cat6a cable? If one or more of the following common scenarios applies, then the shielded cable is suggested:

  • Outdoor installation

  • Proximity to high voltage wiring or panels

  • Within a few feet of generators or electrical motors

  • Alongside or parallel with common AC wiring, especially inside walls

  • Critical backbone connections such as switch to switch, switch to server, or when the connection absolutely must have the highest possible speed the devices on either side can support.

To sum it up, the decision between Cat6a shielded vs. unshielded cable should be based on your cabling environments, along with the consideration of the budget. Installing high-quality Cat6a cables to get a longer life expectancy of your cabling installation, and to reduce the long-term replacement and manpower.


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