Lately, several of my clients have been asking for Cat 6 cabling infrastructure on their new buildings. In the past, I have always been the guy to tell my clients that there is no need for Cat 6 cable in their networks at this time. Most business heads out there will tell me hwo crazy I am because that's like throwing free money away and yada yada. This may sound cliche, but I would honestly rather make less money on a job then have to look a client in the eyes, each and every visit, knowing that I sold them a product or service that they don't need.
Cat 6? What happened to Cat 3 and Cat 5? For those of you that dont know what I'm talking about, Category 6, known in short as Cat 6, is a relatively new cabling standard that has more stringent specifications then the more common category 5 and 5e cable. The main difference between cat 5e and cat 6 is the frequency it supports. Cat 5e cable will run up to 150Mhz while cat 6 cable will support up to 250Mhz. What does this mean? In short, it means that cat 6 cable can support 10 gigabit Ethernet while cat 5e supports the more common gigabit Ethernet. So if I install cat 6 in my home, I can transfer my music and movies at 10 gigabit speed? No, no, no....you need 10 gigabit Ethernet hardware in conjunction with the cabling standard. Being that a 10GBe switch is around $10K for 24 ports, I don't see many homes with this standard anytime soon. Besides the bandwidth increase you can get with cat 6 cable, you will also see slightly less crosstalk and system noise on your network. This is in large part to the insulation on the cat 6 cable. It's slightly larger then that of the cat 5e and you can run into problems terminated the larger cat 6 in some situations. Cat 6 is no doubt much improved over cat 5e, however is it enough improved to justify a network wide overhaul for 100Mhz of bandwidth that will only be leveraged with a huge investment in network hardware? That's really the question on the table and a question that is best answered on a business by business basis.
More bandwidth, less crosstalk, less system noise, and support for tomorrows network appliances. Why shouldn't we upgrade to cat 6? Well, because there is always going to be a new standard that is going to improve upon all of these aspects and it just might be on the shelves today. I'm talking about cat 6a. Cat 6a offers everything that cat 6 offers AND doubles the bandwidth to 500Mhz! Not only do you get twice the bandwidth, you also get improved crosstalk to cat 6, since cat 6 users report high crosstalk in the higher frequency's, and, of course, backward compatibility with former cable standards. With cat 6a standards already defined by ANSI/TIA/EIA, it's hard for me to find a reason not to go with the cat 6a standard if my client is dead set on leaving cat 5e behind.
With all this cat 5, cat 6, and cat 6a ANSI/TIA/EIA talk going around on this blog entry, I think it's important to understand that while these new standards seem to be the key aspects of tomorrows physical layer, they are still 4 pair twisted pair cable that is physically ran the same way AND is terminated the same way. Cat 6 and 6a cable still uses an RJ45 connector and still uses the same T568A and T568B wire color standard.
Along with the wire color standard, you will also have the same commercial and residential state code requirements. Plenum cable in all vertical and horizontal spaces that share HVAC and 3 feet away from any florescent fixtures just to name a couple of the most important to inspectors. Also, if you are looking into hiring someone or some business to install your structured cabling, you need to make sure that they are licensed by the state in which they do business, in California it's the C-7 low voltage license, and they are insured and bonded. If you already have a company or individual hired, be sure to run their license number on your states licensing boards website. Some states will refer to the license number as the Application Fee Number.
In closing, I would have to say that cat 5e is still the most common standard and is more then capable of taking on today's networking loads. Most networks are still using fast ethernet (100MBps) to the end users and gigabit on the distribution layer (switch to switch). Cat 5e is more then enough to handle such designs. However, if you are new construction or you're planning on perhaps hosting your own high traffic website or hosting other business websites and/or applications, investing in cat 6a may be a good investment to secure your future in the space. Yes, I said cat 6a. With 6a being around the same price, maybe a few cents more per foot, it doesn't take a mathematician to decide between the two. If you, or someone/business you know is in need of a new infrastructure, have them give G&G Network Design and Cabling, LLC a call @ 619-320-8359. We can go over the pros and cons of any upgrade or repair and we can install an infrastructure that is second to none.
Frank Gonzalez Lead Network Engineer G&G Network Design and Cabling, LLC http://GandGNetwork.com