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The road ahead

While looking at the recent developments at the cabling market, there has been a shift in the mindshare of customers, technology and most importantly acceptance of advanced cabling technology. Before ratification of Cat 6A/EA standards, users were afraid of using the pre-standard products available due to the added risk factor involved in a possible future non-compliance. Now that the standard is finally ratified, industry definitely sees many installations convert to Cat6A instead of Cat6, even though this may not exceed 10% before a year.

Gautier Humbert, RCDD, Sales Manager Gulf Countries, Ortronics Legrand, says the ratification of Cat 6A might even trigger the decline of Cat7 solutions. “This technology was developed 5 years ago, at a time when it was not possible to manufacture RJ45 connectors for 500MHz. It was a trade-off between performance and flexibility. Now that a cabling system is capable of providing 10G on copper with the traditional RJ45 connectors, the Cat7 solution has lost most of its arguments.”

While the jury is still out on that, what is for sure is that the recent ratification of Cat 6A has made available the much required infrastructure which supports the future 10 Gig applications no matter when it will become available to the desk top. In addition, the IEEE 802.3an had also standardized the 10Gig application in 2007. Currently, active networking manufacturers need to provide the market with a cost effective solution of 10 Gig interface.

“The development of networking devices that offer the 10Gig will take time to become available, and it is not foreseen that the ratification of Cat6A will expedite it as such. It is worth mentioning that there are more challenging issues, rather than having the required infrastructure (Cat6A) available, towards having 10 Gig in wiring closets. Heat dissipation of the active devices specifically in data centers is one of many,” said Tarek Helmy, Regional Director Gulf & Middle East, Nexans Cabling Solutions, however, he also added, “The infrastructure is now ready (Cat6A), but the are many other concerns to have the 10Gig available within the wiring closets.”

The Cat 6A impact

Alien X-Talk (AXT) has been the main obstacle to realizing the Cat6A infrastructure, a 500 MHz channel performance over 100 meter channel. Helmy adds, “I believe the question needs to be phrased as, “Has Cat6A managed to overcome the AXT problem?” Indeed it has, but only with screened Cat6A solutions. The UTP Cat6A is still facing challenges to provide immunity against the AXT. In addition, the testing of Cat6A UTP solution is mandatory, which is not the case with Screened cabling. It is worth mentioning that the AXT testing is a time consuming option, which is not favored by either installers or end users.”

Though the IEEE has ratified the 802.3an in June 2006, manufacturers have not offered many solutions due to the lack of demand in the market. With Cat6A cabling in place, the demand is expected to grow rapidly, which should lead to an improved selection.

“One detail remains to be solved which is– the price. Currently, 10g over fiber cards are less costly and less power-hungry than their copper equivalents. This is due to the much higher volume of fiber cards manufactured (available since 2002) which have lowered production costs and justified the investments in research. Let’s hope that the 10G over copper cards will be able to catch up fast, otherwise the market may quickly turn to fiber,” says Humbert.

According to Eugene Botes, of R& M, “For STP there is no alien crosstalk issue anyways. But for UTP, alien crosstalk is defined for a level where it influences the system performance less than the RL. Nevertheless installation influences alien cross talk as well which means it is demanding to determinate this only by components.” However he adds that a certain portion of Ca. 6 customers will demand Cat. 6A / Class EA. “We expect that 20 to 25% of the market will be Cat6A / Class EA by 2011.”

Cat6A differentiator

If we look at it from the application perspective, Cat6A may have put an end to the Standard Cat6 offering. This is considered a risky statement, but it is close to reality. Further adding to this, Helmy also predicted, “The next foreseen application, 10Gig, will not be supported by the standard Cat6 (250 MHz) that had been ratified in 2002 and can be supported by the new Cat6A. Having said that, what is the value of offering Cat6 any longer? This is a difficult fact that we have to face today for any new infrastructure requirements,” says Helmy.

It is also worth mentioning that the ISO has ratified the new Cat7A, a 1000 MHz channel performance network infrastructure. This solution will offer Shannon capacity of more than 50 Gigabit compared to Cat6A that supports less than 30 Gigabit.

Evolving market dynamics

There is a great confusion in the market on the effects of Alien Next. This is a new test requirement that was not anticipated with the previous grades of cabling for the simple reason that it has strictly no influence at all. “Up to 250MHz, the noise from ANEXT is negligible, but becomes a major factor of data corruption above 400MHz in twisted pair cables,” says Humbert.

He highlights some issues by saying, “Firstly, any Category 6 cabling claiming higher frequency than 250Mhz is only marketing as ANEXT was not taken into consideration. Such cable will not provide for any added application. Also, any Cat6 cabling system will have difficulties with 10G with long runs of parallel cables close together. Strict installation methods should be used to limit noise.” He further added, “Thirdly, it is absolutely impossible to guarantee 10G on Cat6 UTP before installation. This is why 10g on Cat6 should only be attempted on existing installations with proper testing, but never on new installations. And lastly, RJ45 cabling system that can really guarantee 10G is Cat6a. All previous categories highly depend on the quality of labor and site conditions.”

Interestingly, the Cat6 shielded system offers improved ANEXT (with perfect installation) over Cat6 UTP, but still does not guarantee 10G as it is only characterized up to 250MHz. It must still be tested, after installation, for the in-channel 10G certification which may very often fail. (up to 40% according to tester manufacturers)

The shielded systems supposedly offer higher ANEXT immunity in theory. However, because the shield only functions if grounded at both ends, and because in reality it is only grounded at one end, the effectiveness of the shield remains to be proven. So we can definitely say that the Cat6a shielded offer higher performance in theory, but that UTP offers better guarantees on the field, according to Humbert.

A typical enterprise network does not need Cat6A, as 100Meg is still sufficient in many cases. However, there is a new trend in the market that needs to be looked at. “Many companies are now replacing desktop computers with stations. The main differences are that stations consume less power, have fewer security risks, and are less costly. They main disadvantage of this architecture is the lack of local hard drives which imposes much more communication through the network,” adds Humbert. It is therefore not well adapted for legacy cabling with low bandwidth. Cat 6A associated with this architecture can provide for a very robust, secure, and cost-conscious solution.

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