Category 6 is an Ethernet cable standard defined by the Electronic Industries Association (EIA) and Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). Cat 6 is the sixth generation of twisted pair Ethernet cabling that is used in home and business networks. Cat 6 cabling is backward compatible with the Cat 5 and Cat 5e standards that preceded it.
Category 6 cables support Gigabit Ethernet data rates of 1 gigabit per second. They can
accommodate 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections over a limited distance — 164 feet for a
single cable. Cat 6 cable contains four pairs of copper wire and uses all the pairs for
signaling in order to obtain its high level of performance.
The ends of a Cat 6 cable use the same RJ-45 standard connector as previous generations
of Ethernet cables. The cable is identified as Cat 6 by printed text along the insulation
sheath. An enhanced version of Cat 6 called Cat 6a supports up to 10 Gbps speeds.
The Category 6 Augmented cable standard, or Cat 6a, was created to further improve the
performance of Cat 6 Ethernet cables. Using Cat 6a enables 10 Gigabit Ethernet data rates
over a single cable run up to 328 feet; Cat 6 supports 10 Gigabit Ethernet only up to 164
feet of cable length. With the higher performance, Cat 6a cables generally cost more than
Cat 6, and they are slightly thicker. Cat 6a still uses the standard RJ-45 connectors.
Cat 6 vs. Cat 5e
The history of cable design for Ethernet networks resulted in two separate efforts to
improve on the previous generation Category 5 cable standard. One eventually became
Cat 6. The other, called Category 5 Enhanced, was standardized earlier. Cat 5e lacks some
of the technical improvements that went into Cat 6, but it supports Gigabit Ethernet
installations at a lower cost. Like Cat 6, Cat 5e uses a four-wire pair signaling scheme
to achieve its data throughput rates. In contrast, Cat 5 cables contain four wire pairs
but only uses two of the pairs.
Because it became available on the market sooner and offered acceptable performance for
Gigabit Ethernet at a more affordable price point, Cat 5e became a popular choice for
wired Ethernet installations. This, along with the relatively slow transition of the
industry to 10 Gigabit Ethernet, significantly slowed the adoption of Cat 6.
As with all other types of twisted pair EIA/TIA cabling, individual Cat 6 cable runs are
limited to a maximum recommended length of 328 feet for their nominal connection speeds.
As mentioned previously, Cat 6 cabling supports 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections, but not
at this full distance.
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