CAT6A is currently the cable of choice for future-proofing cabling installations and for 10-GbE networks.
There are two types of CAT6A cable, unshielded (UTP) and shielded (F/UTP). F/UTP denotes foiled/unshielded twisted pair and consists of four unshielded twisted pairs encased in an overall foil shield. This is not to be confused with an S/FTP (screened/foiled twisted pair) cable, which has four individually shielded twisted pairs encased in an overall braided shield.
CAT6A UTP is constructed in a certain way to help eliminate crosstalk and ANEXT. (ANEXT is the measurement of the signal coupling between wire pairs in different and adjacent cables.) This includes larger conductors (23 AWG minimum), tighter twists, an extra internal airspace, an internal separator between the pairs, and a thicker outer jacket. These features also increase the outer diameter of the cable, typically to .35 inches in diameter, up from .25 inches for CAT6 cable. This increased diameter creates a greater distance between pairs in adjacent links, thus reducing the between-channel signal coupling. But CAT6A UTP cable is still affected by ANEXT.
According to the standards, ANEXT can be improved by laying CAT6A UTP cable loosely in pathways and raceways with space between the cables. This contrasts to the tightly bundled runs of CAT6/5e cable we are used to. The tight bundles present a worst-case scenario of six cables around one, thus the center cable would be adversely affected by ANEXT. Testing for ANEXT is a complex and time-consuming process where all possible wire-pair combinations are checked. It can take up to 50 minutes to test one link in a bundle of 24 CAT6A UTP cables.
ANEXT, and the time needed to test for it, can be greatly reduced, if not eliminated completely, by using CAT6A F/UTP. The foil shield acts as a barrier preventing external EMI/RFI from coupling onto the twisted pairs. It also prevents data signals from leaking out of the cable, making the cable more difficult to tap and better for secure installations. Studies also have shown that CAT6A F/UTP cable provides significantly more headroom (as much as 20 dB) than CAT6A UTP in 10-GbE over copper systems.
Bigger isn't always better
CAT6A UTP cable has an overall allowable diameter of 0.354 inches. CAT6A F/UTP cable has an average outside diameter of 0.265–0.30 inches. That’s smaller than the smallest CAT6A UTP cable. An increase in the outside diameter (O.D.) of 0.1 inches, from 0.25 inches to 0.35 inches, for example, represents a 21% increase in fill volume. In general, CAT6A F/UTP cable provides a minimum of 35% more fill capacity that CAT6A UTP cable.
Also because of its large diameter, CAT6A UTP requires a larger bend radius, more pathways, less dense patch panel connections, and extensive ANEXT testing.
Although shielded cable has the reputation of being bigger, bulkier and more difficult to handle and install than unshielded cable, this is not the case with CAT6A F/UTP cable. CAT6A F/UTP cable is actually easier to handle, requires less bend radius, and uses smaller pathways. In addition, innovations in connector technology have made terminating CAT6A F/UTP cable simpler. In terms of grounding, the requirements for both UTP and F/UTP cable fall under TIA/EIA J-STD-607-A Commercial Building Grounding (Earthing) and Bonding Requirements for Telecommunications.
The advantages of CAT6A F/UTP vs. UTP
In summary, there are a number of advantages of using CAT6A F/UTP over CAT6A UTP in 10-GbE networks.
- Shielding eliminates ANEXT and EMI/RFI problems and testing.
- Data line security is enhanced because of shielding.
- Lighter, slimmer cable provides higher port density.
- Smaller outside diameter cable is easier to handle and reduces installation costs.
- Shielded cable uses less space in conduits.
For more information, see the CAT6A F/UTP vs. UTP: What You Need to Know white paper.