Technology is constantly evolving to deliver better, faster and more efficient solutions for businesses, and cabling is no exception to this. As data demands on corporate networks continue to escalate, so too does the need for new and improved cabling solutions that can deliver the level of performance that companies require.
In the last few years, this has resulted in older Cat5e and Cat6 cabling being superseded by Cat6a, an advanced form of cabling that offers a wide range of benefits compared to its predecessors. As such, network operators looking to deliver the best possible performance should learn as much as they can about the benefits this technology provides.
Cat6a: the basics
The first Category 6A systems were introduced in 2004 to address the needs of 10GBASE-T applications, and have quickly become the cabling solution of choice for new installations supporting Power over Ethernet (PoE) or data rates at 1 Gbps or higher.
It was designed to be the first cabling specification to aim for optimised repeatable alien crosstalk performance, while also being specified to a frequency of 500 MHz with superior insertion loss.
The technology was developed in response to the emergence of the 10GBASE-T standard, the use of which highlighted limitations in the design of older Cat5e and Cat6 systems, and has since gained traction thanks to the predictable performance it offers in bundled situations, as well as the lower cable losses it provides.
Benefits compared to Cat5e and Cat6 technology
One of the issues that can occur when using Cat5e and Cat6 cabling with 10GBASE-T applications is that crosstalk between cables in a bundle - called alien crosstalk - becomes highly variable, with the added factor of insertion loss creating performance bottlenecks.
Cat6a cables, on the other hand, offer predictable alien crosstalk performance at low and specified levels, while insertion loss is also brought down to a much more manageable degree.
What's more, Cat6a is an ideal solution when utilising the latest PoE Plus technology, as its design supports the use of well-controlled spacing between cables, and the use of typically larger conductor to aid DC resistance. All of this helps to minimise the heat generated when multiple cables in a bundle are carrying power.
A future-proof solution
Perhaps the greatest benefit of Cat6a cabling, however, is the future-proof nature of the technology's design.
Although 10GBASE-T was the first technology to directly specify alien crosstalk as a limiting concern, this factor has since become an important consideration in the design of newer, intermediate-rate and asymmetric technologies such as 2.5GBASE-T, 5GBASE-T, and HDBASE-T. Designers of cutting-edge data access technologies are expected to continue to see alien crosstalk as the main impairment in deployment, meaning the benefits of Cat6a compared to Cat5e and Cat6 will only become more pronounced.
Given that cabling networks tend to remain in place for many years, it therefore makes sense for Cat6a to become the first-choice cabling solution for any new installation, particularly as the costs of this innovative technology continue to fall.