Friday, October 26, 2012

Cat6A cable and connectors comparison and overiew

Over the past couple of years I've been getting more calls and inquires regarding Cat6A copper networking. I agree that Cat6A is cool but let's dig a bit more into the cable and connectivity before we talk about who's mostly installing it.

The Cat6A standard is performing 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GBASE-T) up to 500MHZ and at a maximum distance of 328ft. Cat6A is also backward compatible with Cat6 and Cat5e performance applications. (Don't forget that Cat6 will do 10G up to 180 feet).

Here's a quick look at Cat6A vs. Cat6 cable from our YouTube Channel .

When comparing Cat6A cables from one brand to the other I'm always comfortable with the standard 500MHZ rating. You might find Cat6A cables with a higher MHZ rating, typically those cables are more interested in appearing as a "faster speed" cable. This is a common selling point by low end quality cable manufactures trying to appear as a faster cable for less cost and I've also seen it with high end cable manufactures trying to get the consumer to pay more for the same product.

If you do see a higher MHZ rating keep in mind there is no standard for a higher MHZ rated Cat6A cable. The standard for for Cat6A is defined by TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association) as 568-C.2 replacing 568-B.2-10 and it defines this standard as a performance requirement for Cat6A channels, permanent links and components at 500MHZ. The ISO (International Standards Organization) has it listed as 11801 Class EA, the equivalent standard outside North America.

500MHZ is the standard, so if you do find a different MHZ rating you're paying for something that has no defined standard so your paying more for less. I've had to go over the MHZ rating for years on Cat5e big E and little E all thanks to manufactures confusing the market. Stop please!

There will also be some other things to think about, like how Cat6A cable is sold on reels. You'll need some reel handling equipment. If your going to pull this cable once ever, you can make a reel stand with a couple of ladders and a pole. I know it's not pretty but I've seen it many times on job sites.

The weight of this cable is also an issue with shipping cost, going through UPS can be expensive. Moving these cables around at your installation can be also be a chore due to the weight. Bend with the knees.

The diameter of the cable could also present a problem. The above video shows a first generation Cat6A cable and that cable typically has a outside diameter of .330" and Cat6 has a typical outside diameter of .230" and there is a very noticeable difference. A second generation Cat6A cable has been out for a little while now and has a outside diameter of .300" and that has helped ease the installation process and saving cost on certain types of materials such as conduits, horizontal, vertical cable management, J-hooks and cable runways.

You also need to think about the bend radius. To maintain Cat6A performance the minumum bend radius should be 4x the outside diameter for UTP and shielded. This radius is larger than Cat6 and Cat5e. The cable pulling tension must not exceed 25 pounds of force. Don't forget threaded rods, stronger anchors are also needed to support the heavier cable. 

You'll also find that on the connectivity side of things it could get very expensive. Here's a look at possibly the top line of Cat6A insert jacks by Commscope, an overview of the jack then how to terminate. (Sorry, I deleted the Jack Video so I can redo it, take a look at their Cat6A cable until I redo it).

As you can tell the Commscope Systimax jack is awesome but can cost up to $17 each but then again it is a top dog and the test results prove it.

Another quality insert jack to maybe consider is by Signamax. Here's an overview on it and how to terminate it.

The Signamax jack can run up to $7 each, better priced than the Commscope brand but still a noticeable higher difference in cost compared to their Cat6 and Cat5e offering.

Another common question I get asked about is what about shielded? I think shielded jacks and cable are not necessary for most applications. I've commonly sold shielded products for Television and Radio station installations, for a home or even your common commercial installation I think is overkill. Alright, we can check out a shielded jack anyways.

So we have jacks and cable, let's talk about patch panels. Most of the patch panels I've seen from brand to brand seem to not have a noticeable difference. Still using a 110 blade for punching down and still taking up the same amount of rackspace for the ports. You know, 24 port is 1U 48 port is 2U and so on.

So we've talked about cable, jacks, patch panels but what about patch cords? So far I've been moving 26awg patch cords and they are stranded for flexibility.

The patch cables in the above video shows that it does in fact have a small outside diameter of around 0.24 and that goes a long way when patching panels to routers. Patch cord pricing is not all that bad compared to a quality American made Cat6 or Cat5e patch cable. Cable manufactures seem to only be offering bulk Cat6A stranded cable for assemblies in a shielded version. I understand, it's cheaper to carry just a shielded cable then both.  

The Cat6A market is still very fresh and trying to gain traction. It might be growing slowly into the market over the past few years due to the economy or due to the emergence of fiber optic cable for 10G applications.

Here's an example of a 10G fiber optic cable from our YouTube Channel .

Many new switches from Cisco and Hewlett Packard have a 10G option when used with the appropriate SFP modules and with fiber pushing 10G much further than copper, fiber optics have been much more popular in campus environments. Data centers do seem to be the one area that is using a good mix of 10G fiber and copper.

I understand everyone wants the latest and greatest but I'm not sure if Cat6A will successfully escape the data center. Maybe it'll just stay there and die.

"By Mercy Salinas"