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The Importance of Structured Cabling

revised 8/17/2017 by Okol Group

Wonder what "structured cabling" means? It's not as fancy as you think and it's easy to understand. And the best part of it is that it's relatively inexpensive. Discover here why structured cabling should be part of your projects going forward.

 

Why cables?

Make no mistake: copper and fiber cables are you best friends when it comes to data connectivity and telecommunications. They not only last for decades, but they are also relatively inexpensive to purchase and install, and are extremely reliable (unless someone cuts them by mistake).

 

Leaving our super hero "the fiber" aside for now, let's focus on copper cables. The amount of data that can propagate on them is far above what your household or SOHO can consume at any given time. Cables, as opposed to data networking equipment in general, are also obsolescence-resistant, because networking equipment adapt to copper more often than copper adapts to equipment.

 

There are several types of copper cables in use today, each with its own purpose:

 

  • Twisted-pair 4P8C cable (four pairs, eight conductors): composed of four twisted copper pairs encapsulated in a single jacket, this cable is the norm for Ethernet networking. The most common TP cables found today are Category 5e, 6, and 7. They obey ANSI/TIA 568-C standard.

  • Coaxial cable: composed of an inner core solid/stranded conductor and an outer shield mesh, coaxial cables are the norm for cable television distribution inside premises. It is very resistant and can withstand long runs, given its thickness and shielding characteristics.

  • Audio cable: Often composed of one or two pairs of stranded copper wires, audio cables withstands the power needed to feed sound speakers. They are not suitable for data.

  • Single/Multi-pair cable: Often used in telephony and general purpose applications, each pair can handle a phone line or an alarm circuit. If using multi-pair cables, several phone lines can be transported from point A to B. Unless special modems are used, multi-pair cables should not be used for data networks.

Why "structured"?

The term "structured cabling" comes from building telecommunications cabling infrastructure that consists of a number of standardized smaller elements called subsystems. Think of the subsystems as your office desk or the wall behind your wall-mounted TV - places where you will need an Ethernet/data connection. Each point is a subsystem, and structured cabling connects all points in a way that makes sense. In practical terms, wires are normally run inside walls, underneath the floor, above the ceiling or through the plenum, and even underground. They usually originate from a single location called the "Main Distribution Frame", but in residential terms we simply say the "media cabinet". They terminate where it makes sense: at the home theater wall, the office desk baseboard, the Wi-Fi pole, or even at the refrigerator.

Examples of unshielded twisted-pair Cat 5e cable (left) and RG-6U coaxial cable (right)

How to install wires

The best time to implement structured cabling is during construction or renovations. With the inner walls and guts of the premises exposed, running wires is a breeze. What is really important, however, is to know where to run them. As we previously mentioned, "structured" means an organized way of running wires from an originating point to several other points where they will be needed. Understand that the main reason to implement structured wiring is because you want great connectivity without exposed wires and/or do not want to depend on Wi-Fi.

The importance of "thoughtful planning"

Running cables throughout the house during construction is a teamwork effort. Teaming-up with the Architect/Interior Designer is crucial to find out where the subsystems will reside (home theater, desk, furniture, etc.) and what the client's lifestyle and needs are. Often, General Contractors run wires and terminate them in standard locations, which rarely match where they will be really needed. In cases where the Architect is unsure where subsystems will be located, run additional wires and hide them behind the wall. For what concerns Wi-Fi planning, cables are crucial to feed data and power (PoE) to the access points throughout the premises.

 

Structured Cabling and the Internet of Things (IoT)

By 2020, it is predicted than an average modern household will have 25 or more devices needing constant connectivity to the internet or the LAN. Add that to the myriad of gadgets that we bring home every month and you can easily perceive how a Wi-Fi network can clog up. Structured Cabling solves this problem by allowing static devices to connect to your LAN without degrading Wi-Fi performance. Read more about the IoT here.

The importance of structured cabling planning as an additional layer in architectural and interior design

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Disclaimer: Use of the information provided here is at your own risk. The author makes no warranties of performance or any other claims, and should not be held liable for the use of this information. Readers agree with the terms of use of this website.