The Category 6E myth

There is no Category 6E. And don't count on there ever being one. I will state that first, just so there is no misunderstanding. Now I will get on with my story...

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There is no Category 6E. And don't count on there ever being one. I will state that first, just so there is no misunderstanding. Now I will get on with my story...

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I was making the rounds at a trade show recently, when I saw a piece of literature describing a company's Category 6E cable. Being an editor with typographical-error-phobia, I thought that perhaps what I was reading was actually a typo-and that the company intended to detail its Category 5E cable, since there is such a thing. Or, maybe the "E" was there by mistake, and the company was describing its Category 6 cable.

I'm a freethinking kind of guy; I can understand why some people proclaim Category 6 this and Category 6 that, even though the standard is not yet final. But alas, back on the trade-show floor, this company actually meant what it said: Category 6E.

What, I wondered, qualified a cable as Category 6E? It appears that in this case, the "E" is intended to signify "extended frequency," or something similar. The company has tested the cable's performance beyond the 250-MHz upper limit of the forthcoming Category 6 specifications. And the cable does just fine. In fact, it meets proposed Category 6 performance requirements at frequencies well above the 250-MHz limit. So, this company is choosing to let the buying world know that its cable performs better than the proposed Category 6 specifications by calling it "Category 6E."

When I asked an individual employed by the cable-maker if I could expect to hear reports of any Category 6E standards work from the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA-Arlington, VA), the response was, "You'll have to ask them." Funny, I thought it was individuals from manufacturing companies, including the one in whose booth I was standing, that largely made up the TIA's TR-42 Engineering Committee. And because this company appeared to know so much about the as-yet-unpublished Category 6 standard (evidenced by the fact that it compared its cable's specifications to the not-yet-final Category 6 specifications), I thought it might also have some insight into the TIA's perspective on Category 6E. I guess not.

Those who were able to give me the TIA's perspective on this topic told me that there is no Category 6E work item anywhere to be found. It looks like there is some chance that Category 6 will be final by June 2001, but it is more likely that the standard will be final in September 2001. So, we still have the better part of a year before that happens-and cabling-system installers will carry out almost another year's worth of projects before you can actually walk into a client's building with Category 6 cable that complies with an actual, ratified standard.

And that's where the problem lies, I think. Engineering minds within the TIA have worked diligently, with the best of intentions, to bring the Category 6 standard to its current draft form. At the same time, many users in today's marketplace want the best-performing cable being made. Not the best-performing cable that complies with an actual, ratified standard-the best-performing cable being made.

Many have purchased such cable, with assurances from manufacturers that it is Category 6 material and that it will comply with the Category 6 standard whenever that standard is finalized. So now, even though we are probably still six or nine months away from Category 6 "for real," the standard has actually come a long way in its development. And many vendors have put products into the field with that Category 6 assurance.

If the TIA changed the specifications now, those Category 6 assurances could be at risk, and you can bet that interested parties would mightily resist such an effort in the standards group. Just about everybody I speak to agrees that the Category 6 specifications are, for all intents and purposes, final. (All of which makes me wonder, "Then why in the world will it be September before we see an actual standard?" But that's a topic for another editorial, I guess.)

If we accept that the specifications are firmly in place, then it's not such a stretch to see a cable maker already saying its products are better than Category 6. And the fact that one company's marketing department came up with the term "Category 6E" does not surprise me, based on the fairly recent ratification of a Category 5E standard that specifies cabling systems that are "better than Category 5."

But please know, for your own purposes in choosing products for your upcoming projects, that the TIA currently has no plans to pursue anything that it will call Category 6E. If anything changes on that front, we will be sure to let you know.

Patrick McLaughlin
Editor-in-Chief
patrick@pennwell.com

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