(Note: The following is a guest blog by George Zimmerman, an independent consultant specializing in physical layer communications technology. Opinions and comments provided in this post, as with all posts to the CommScope blog, are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CommScope.)
I recently wired my own house with Category 6a cabling. It was an easy decision for me, and I strongly recommend Category 6a for new installations even though I’ve spent the last 22 years of my life working on ways to reuse old twisted pair cable – to make it run faster, better or longer. Whether it has been DSL, or 2.5G/5GBASE-T Ethernet on installed Category 5e or Category 6 cable, my stock and trade has been how to get more out the existing cabling – which these days is mostly a mix of Category 6 and Category 5e. Why then, do I recommend Category 6a for new installations? Why then, when it came down to wiring my own house, did I choose to pay a bit more to put in Category 6a?
The answer is steeped in a single, indisputable fact: new cabling installations are infrastructure that needs to last. Application technology will move along much faster than anyone wants to replace the cabling, and getting the most out of that existing cable – both today and tomorrow – is what Category 6a is all about.
There are two major performance metrics in enterprise copper cabling: communications speed and ability to simultaneously deliver power. A little-known fact is that since the advent of 1000BASE-T (that’s 17 years ago now), DSP techniques have largely compensated for all the internal impairments of copper cabling, leaving alien crosstalk as the limiting parameter.
I recently was the Chief Editor for IEEE 802.3bz – 2.5G and 5GBASE-T, and hope to eventually use access points connected with this technology. 2.5G and 5GBASE-T will run on installed Category 5e and Category 6 cabling, under typical use cases and alien crosstalk environments, but only Category 6a is actually specified to control alien crosstalk levels. This assures me of reliable operation, and, gives me a growth path for 10GBASE-T, which is likely to be the backhaul for my wireless access points in the lifetime of my installation. So, when it came to a new installation, Category 6a was the obvious choice – as the only enterprise cabling designed for alien crosstalk performance.
At the other end of the speed spectrum is the other application driving copper cabling - DC power distribution, or Power-over-Ethernet (PoE). In another part of my practice I am involved in enabling the delivery of more power over category cabling, in the IEEE P802.3bt 4-pair Power over Ethernet project. In my new installation, I want to deliver that power safely, and without concerns about overheating the cabling. Applications using more power (such as powering displays and newer access points) are already a reality. Category 6a is again the obvious choice to safely support these – both for today and tomorrow.
As someone who has been continuously pushing the envelope, I know that Category 6a (and only Category 6a among the TIA-Specified 100m copper cabling categories) is the right choice for new installations. To find out more details about why, see my white paper “Category 6A: The cabling of choice for new installations.”