A client who is moving into a new office recently asked for advice in setting up his infrastructure. After scoping out the best spot for mounting his server rack, we surveyed the space to get an idea of how he wanted to deploy the data drops. As soon as someone brings up data drops, the next topic is naturally cabling and what type to install. In this situation, our recommendation was to run “Category 6e” cables… but why and what’s the difference between 6e, 6a, and 5e?
The simple answer to the first half of the question is that whenever you’re installing infrastructure, whether it’s cables, switches, or servers, you always take into consideration the length of time you expect to be using it and plan for likely growth.
However, this still leaves the question, “What’s the difference?”
Here’s where the answer gets nerdy. The difference in cable categories comes down to a handful of relevant features; specifically, frequency range (MHz), electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), and signal-to-noise margin to name a few. It gets nerdier, but in plain English this means that the higher the grade of cable the more bandwidth it can handle with less interruptions and less potential packet loss.
From Cat 5e to Cat 6, the frequency range increases from 1-100 to 1-250 MHz. From Cat 6 to 6A, the frequency range doubles to 1-500 MHz. The Telecommunications Industry Association doesn’t actually recognize “6e” as a standard, but the “e” is a naming convention referring to “enhanced” that manufacturers began incorporating to convey the increase in performance.
So we’re not 100% accurate when we are saying Cat 6e, but unless you want to split hairs feel free to continue… everyone will still know what you mean.