thePoint, vol. 27

Thinking about Category 6A?

—by Tim Hooper

If you’ve been considering adding Category 6A cabling to your future plans, allow us to throw in our two cents.  A lively debate on this subject is taking place on Cabling Installation & Maintenance’s discussion Group on Linked In.  The discussion started with a post by Matias Peluffo from CommScope, titled “Top 10 Reasons for using Cat6A”.  James Donovan, Digital Marketing and Education Services at CommScope shared this with the LinkedIn Group and the opinions quickly followed.

Being generally ignorant about this level of technical detail, I asked our own Karl Sandmann, a long standing BICSI Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD), on his opinion on the subject.  

(Since Karl is way smarter than me on this stuff I have no problem adopting his opinion as my own!)  As Karl explained it to me, Cat 6A is generally not our recommendation for desktop cabling.  It turns out the reason is pretty straightforward – Cat6A is larger and more expensive than Category 6 cable. The larger size of the cable means twice the sleeves / conduit and cable supports for the same number of cables.  This just adds more cost to an already expensive cabling system.  The relative cost of a Cat6A installation can be +25% over a Cat6 installation.  When Cat 6A gets cheaper and smaller it will be more cost effective to install to the desktop.

Of course, there are exceptions.  A large higher education customer of ours has decided Cat6A-to-the-wallplate is the way to go.  When they have a chance to renovate and remodel a building, they don’t plan on doing it again for 15–20 years.  So they want to install the latest and greatest cabling infrastructure to get the longest life possible.  In these cases where they own the building and forecast the need for lots of bandwidth, paying the premium is worth it.

Data Centers are also an exception:  Cat6A is the best way to go (for copper connectivity).  The benefits outweigh the cost/size disadvantages mentioned above.  Shielded Cat6A is recommended for systems operating at higher frequencies and therefore it is our recommendation for data centers if budgets allow.  Again, space for the larger cable will be an issue in packed server and network cabinets, cable trays and drop outs.  This is just something to be taken into account during the design, but it can add to the overall project cost.

Cat6A is also useful for POE+ installations.  For wireless access points (AP’s) we have started to recommend Cat6A if the budget allows or two 23AWG Cat6 cables.  Hopefully soon we will be installing fiber to the AP’s and go back to installing power outlets for them.

In conclusion our standard recommendation for office cabling will continue to be a high quality Category 6 cable.  For converged systems, video or other high bandwidth applications (e.g. data centers) we would recommend shielded Cat6A.

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