For decades, new residential Ethernet installations have leveraged either Cat5, Cat5e, or Cat6 cabling to create the backbone of home networks. But times are changing, and more recently a new standard is emerging where residential builders and planners are specifying Cat6A cabling and equipment instead.

As a result, Cat6A products are increasingly in more in-demand than ever before. This is a shifting trend builders, developers, and procurement teams need to be keenly on top of.

How Cat6a differs from Cat5, Cat5e, and Cat6

Each new iteration of Ethernet cabling has introduced improvements over previous iterations, primarily in maximum speeds and bandwidth.

Cat5e, for instance, is an “enhanced” version of Cat5. Under ideal circumstances, it’s capable of supporting signal speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps, as opposed to the 100 Mbps supported by Cat5. Another improvement Cat5e introduced was reduced crosstalk – or electrical interference – from other sources, which was something that commonly plagued Cat5 networks.

The introduction of Cat6A is no different. It represents a significant improvement in speed and bandwidth over Cat6. Where Cat6 offers a bandwidth of 250 MHz and supports speeds up to 10 Gbps (under ideal circumstances), Cat6a offers a bandwidth of 500MHz and 10 Gbps over a longer run of cable.

Of course, these speed and bandwidth limits are primarily theoretical. They only have a chance of occurring under highly ideal scenarios but even still, the difference between Cat6A and Cat6, or between Cat6A and Cat5 or 5e, is stark.

Cat6A: From futureproofing to now-proofing

With its improved bandwidth and capability of maintaining high speeds over long cable runs, Cat6A has already been gaining widespread usage in commercial, business, and enterprise settings.

It’s also been used to “future-proof” new residential builds, either custom single-family homes or forward-thinking multi-use and residential projects.

But as the demands placed on home networks continue to grow year-over-year, Cat6A is no longer seen as a way to simply future-proof a home for tomorrow. Instead, Cat6A is being seen by builders and developers as something that should be the standard for new residential builds.

Why the time for Cat6A is now

It’s no secret that every year the average home places more digital strain on its home network.

As more devices are connected to the network, there’s more competition for bandwidth. The extra competition for bandwidth can cause a variety of problems on the network, from slowdowns to dropped connections. That’s especially problematic when it comes to activities like video conferencing for remote workers, streaming 4K videos, or playing online video games.

Cat6A’s higher bandwidth capabilities meet these higher demands. Additionally, Cat6A’s larger gauge cabling provides enhanced PoE (Power over Ethernet) capabilities than Cat6, Cat5e and Cat 5. This makes it ideally suited for a variety of smart home functions, such as the installation of smart security cameras in spots where standard electrical outlets aren’t readily accessible.

Cat6A: Stocking up

For procurement teams the message should be clear: Plan ahead.

As more residential builders begin bringing Cat6A into their project specs, and as more ISP customers begin demanding more reliable internet service, the demand for Cat6A cabling and equipment will continue to grow.

This is also an opportunity for procurement leaders at ISPs to drive conversations within their organizations around the value in network upgrading – or, conversely, the cost in delaying upgrades.

Some estimates suggest that bandwidth demands in the average home have more than doubled since 2018. If a service provider has not made or offered significant upgrades in its network or to its customers in that time, the risk of service slowdowns and disruptions is only going to increase.

When making those procurement plans around Cat6A cabling, be sure to also cover all the additional connectivity equipment on-site installers need to complete a job, such as keystones, couplers, data/voice modules, and more. Primex offers a wide range of Cat6A connectivity products to meet the needs of today’s connected homes.