The demands for high bandwidth keep increasing as video and multimedia gain large popularity among end-users. Cat5e patch cables used to support the 1Gbps network are no longer catered to 10Gbps, which calls for new specifications of twisted pair copper cabling. Ethernet cable with higher bandwidth such as Cat6 cable, Cat6a cable, and Cat7 cables are introduced for high-speed applications of 10GBASE-T. What are the differences between Cat6 vs Cat6a vs Cat7 Cabling? Cat6 cable, Cat6a cable, and Cat7 cable, which is better for the 10GBASE-T network?
Cat6 (Class E), Cat6a (Class EA), and Cat7 (Class F) are twisted pair specifications that can support 10GBASE-T applications with differentiated performances.
Cat6 supports 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T, and 10GBASE-T standards, frequencies up to 250 MHz, and it can handle up to 10 Gbps in conditions of throughput with the utmost cable length of 55 meters.
Cat6a is a 10-Gigabit Ethernet over Copper proposal to the Cat6 standard. Cat6a cable is designed to support frequencies of up to 500 MHz, twice that of Cat6, which can support up to 100 meters when transmitting 10Gbps.
What is Cat7? Cat7 cable supports transmission frequencies of up to 600 MHz. It supports 10GBASE-T Ethernet over the full 100 meters featuring improved crosstalk noise reduction.
*ALL backward compatible—you can plug a newer twisted pair cable into a device that is designed for a slower cable.
Check the below chart to get a full understanding of the specifications and typical applications of Cat6 vs Cat6a vs Cat7.
|Data Transmission||1000 BASE-T||10GBASE-T||Exceeds 10GBASE-T|
|Connector Type||RJ45 (for Cat6)||RJ45 (for Cat6a)||GG45|
|Shielding||UTP or STP||UTP or STP||Shielded ONLY|
Overall speaking, 10GbE Cat6a cable has better network performance than 10GbE Cat6 cable. Cat6a 10GBASE-T cabling can deliver 10G performance of higher frequencies (500 MHz) and with longer link lengths (100 m) than that of Cat6 cabling (250 MHz, 55 m). Cat6 Ethernet cable supports 10GBASE-T over a distance only between 37 and 55 meters depending on the alien crosstalk environment.
Compared with Cat6, Ca6a has more robust sheathing, which reduces alien crosstalk and improves the signal-to-noise ratio. Besides, adopting Cat6 cable in 10Gbps can't make use of power-saving short-reach mode. Short reach mode can reduce power consumption by 1W per port when using Cat6 of 30 meters or less. So 10GBASE-T cable Cat6 is not cost-effective and environment-friendly enough for 10GBASE-T application. What's more, Cat6 cable can't dissipate heat as well as Cat6a 10GBASE-T cable since Cat6 10GBASE-T cable has a smaller diameter conductor.
Figure 1: 10GbE over Cat6 or Cat6a Cables
10GbE Cat6 cabling indeed costs less than 10GbE Cat6a cabling. However, say that if you gamble on running 10Gbps over Cat6 cabling, you'll have to replace all the Cat6 components when it does not work, which will cost much more than directly using Cat6a cabling.
In a word, 10GBASE-T cable Cat6 vs Cat6a, the former is not suggested to be used in some of the 10GBASE-T applications due to its limitations. The minimum grade of cabling to be deployed in a 10GBASE-T network should be Cat6a cable. As for which kind of Cat6a 10GBASE-T cable to use, you may refer to How to Choose the Right Category 6a Cable for Your 10G Networks.
Actually, the Cat7 standard was ratified to support 10Gbps over 100 m earlier than Cat6a. A major advantage of the Cat7 cable is that it has the shield for each of the four wire pairs and for the four pairs as a whole, making it better in noise resistance but less flexible and manageable as well. Thus, 10GbE over Cat7 cable is less easy to install than Cat6a cable, and the price for Cat7 cable is much more expensive as well.
In the laboratory, Cat7 cable speed has shown the potential to reach the data rates of 40Gbps, 50Gbps, and 100Gbps. But the Cat7 cable itself only provides the power and speeds of the equipment and Internet-type it is working with. The Internet speed won't be improved when you only change to a faster cable but remain using slower-speed equipment. That is to say, if you're using a 10GBASE-T copper switch to connect your 10G server, you will get 10G at most whether you replace Cat6a with Cat7 or not.
Figure 2: 10GbE over Cat7 cables
The connector type for Cat7 is slightly different from the previous two—RJ45 compatible GG45 connector. Though Cat7 cable can also use an RJ45 connector, it will be less easy to terminate this cable with thick sheathing to the narrow jack in the field. Thus, you may need to hire a specialized electrician or spend a long time terminating the RJ45 jacks to Cat7 cables on your own.
Most people suppose that Cat7 provides significantly more bandwidth than they need, therefore opting for Cat6a or Cat6. However, as more homes add additional technologies for their ethernet cables, such as automation, closed-circuit security devices, and personal servers, and smart home technology, Cat7 may be more appropriate. For this reason, people who foresee an increase in their bandwidth use may opt for the faster cable, while those who infrequently update technology may go with Cat6a, which is totally sufficient.
The 10GBASE-T copper network can maximize the utilization of existing copper structured cabling, which usually adopts Cat6, Cat6a, or Cat 7 standard Ethernet design for cabling. Cat6 vs Cat6a vs Cat 7, Cat6a is the preferred cable for 10GBASE-T Ethernet thanks to its performance and balance. Cat6a cabling, in the long run, is regarded as an ideal choice as it is seen as a future-proofed cable system. However, each solution has its place, as well as its own set of benefits.
How to decide on which structured cabling system to use? Whether to install Cat6, Cat6a, or Cat7? Answer the following questions to figure out:
What current applications are being utilized?
What future applications do you foresee your organization will bring in?
What is the expected life of the building? 5, 10, 20, or even 25 years?
What is your budget or expected cost?
What growth to your network do you expect over the next five years in terms of data transmitted and the number of users?
What will the cost be of re-installing a new network that can cope with future speeds?
If you're still not sure about which type of cabling solution you should choose, you may contact our account manager for a professional technical consult.