The Ultimate Guide to Structured Cabling Installation
Discover how to identify, build, and install structured cabling systems in offices, data centers and commercial building construction.
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Low voltage wiring. It’s everywhere. The rapid and continuous expansion of technology from simple wiring for telegraph and telephones to complex structured cabling networks for data, voice, audio/visual, wi-fi, and many other systems has created an electrical industry specialty. Commercial construction companies recognize there’s more to the electrical needs of new building construction than lights and power outlets and that most electrical contractors don’t necessarily focus their work force on low voltage skills. They hire a qualified specialty low voltage company to design, build and install low voltage and structured wiring infrastructures that will provide efficient and optimized communication and digital technology network performance. The terms Low Voltage Wiring and Structured Cabling are often interchanged but what’s important is knowing that every installation is unique. Many items are factored into a design of a structured cabling system. These include: the structure of the building and/or facility, the floor plan of interior space, needs and work flow of the current work force and plans for future growth. Optimum function requires careful planning and an efficient network.
What is a Structured Cabling system?
A low voltage structured cabling system is one of the most crucial foundations of your network for voice and data in a building or campus. It is the organized collection of copper or fiber wiring and other components in walls, ceilings, conduit, and elsewhere that connect all your IT hardware of computers, telephones, security cameras, copiers, entry access points, and more to your networks for phone and data. This infrastructure collection is unique for each building installation and includes patch panels, trunks, and a variety of other components besides low voltage data cabling. It is what makes telecommunication solutions possible. This system can be likened to the central nervous system in the human body where the spinal cord, nerve pathways and end points are the conduits for signals between the body and brain. When designed well, low voltage network cabling provides flexibility, optimizes uptime, is easily scalable for future increased usage needs and is a good return on investment (ROI). It also can reduce expenses by limiting down time and associated loss of productivity. A properly designed and installed system also looks cleaner and makes it easier to implement changes to the network. Who hasn’t witnessed messy cabling that is difficult to figure out what is going where?
How Does Structured Cabling Work?
Structured Cabling System
A structured cabling system is an assembly of different components that when combined efficiently, provide the optimum infrastructure for a wide range of business communication uses. This assemblage is made up of 6 subsystems, each with their specific function and their own subsystems and components. The 6 structured cabling subsystems include: Horizontal Cabling, Vertical Cabling, Entrance Facility Structured Cabling, Consolidation Point Structured Cabling, Telecommunications Enclosure and Work Area Components.
Horizontal Cabling subsystems connect work area telecommunications outlets to a telecommunications closet and include most of the cabling in the total system. Other components include cable terminations (where wire or fiber connects to a device), telecommunication outlets (the data/voice outlet that desk top phones and computers plug into), one or more transition points (where one type of cable connects to another type), cross connections between cable runs, equipment and subsystems (primarily using patch cords and jumpers). And more.
Vertical Cabling, also known as Backbone Cabling, is the core subsystem of cables and components that provide inter connections between and among telecommunication rooms, entrance facilities, and equipment rooms, as well as connecting separate buildings within a campus. Besides the actual cables and connections, backbone cabling includes the cable routing components such as conduits, raceways and through-floor penetration sleeves.
Entrance Facility Structured Cabling
Entrance Facility Structured Cabling subsystem includes all the components for connecting a building to an outside data / telecommunication service provider or to a private network cabling system. Entrance Facility cabling can also be the connection of backbone cabling between buildings. It is where the service provider connects with the customer/building being served. Electrical codes enforced in the location of the building dictate required components for this subsystem.
The Telecommunications Enclosure (or room for larger networks) is where the horizontal cabling and vertical cabling subsystems terminate and cross connect. Components include main and intermediate cross connects, patch cords, auxiliary and connecting equipment.
Consolidation Point Structured Cabling
For even larger networks, one or more centralized Equipment Rooms that are environmentally controlled for cooling are used to house major equipment such as routers, servers and other mechanical termination components. They are the consolidation point for structured cabling systems. For smaller networks, the Entrance Facility or telecommunications enclosure/room can also serve the same purpose.
Work Area Components
Work Area subsystems are what connect the end user’s workstation equipment of computers, phones, copiers and more to the telecommunications connector which is the end result of the horizontal cabling subsystem. Work area components include the outlet and patch cables, as well as PC adapter, fiber and other cables. Usually, the work station equipment is also considered components of this subsystem.
What is Considered Low Voltage?
Generally, low voltage wiring is an assembly of cable and components for everything that is separate from standard electrical wiring for mid to higher voltage item needs. These items include: light fixtures, switches, power outlets, and direct connections for powering equipment such as heating and cooling systems. The low voltage we’re talking about is for communication and other equipment that uses 50 volts of electricity and less. It also provides a pathway for different digital technology systems to connect, communicate and share data. These systems include voice/phone and data, security and intercom and more!. This is accomplished using a variety of low voltage network cabling options.
Ethernet Cabling Installation
Ethernet cable installations are commonly used to connect devices like PC’s and routers together within a local network. Different categories of copper based Ethernet cables are used depending on the required speed of data transmission and the distance between the connected equipment. Cat5 cables are most common and support data transmission speeds at 10 to 100 Mbps between connections of around 300 feet, after which there is a loss of communication signal strength. Cat 5e (enhanced) supports data transmission up to 1000 Mbps. Cat 6 structured cabling supports even faster data transmission to 10Gbps and can run up to 700 feet before signal loss. Fiber optic installations are best for fastest speeds and even greater distances. Fiber cable is made of glass strands as opposed to Ethernet’s copper. Glass carries digital information with light instead of electrical currents carried by copper.
Voice and Data Cable Installation
Voice and data cable installations for phone systems and internet connection use the same categories of copper based Ethernet and glass based fiber optic cabling, depending on the requirements of the end user. Phone and data cabling is run through the walls and ceilings of a work place to every cubicle and office to connect devices back to telephone closets/telecommunication enclosures and server rooms.
Security System Cabling
Security system cabling is another network system connected by low voltage structured cabling. Typically, low voltage cabling companies use Cat5e or Cat6 cables run through walls to connect cameras to a server or network video recorder equipment. These cable types can also provide power to security cameras and other devices such as phones, eliminating the need for separate power wiring. Called Power-Over-Ethernet, this technology requires a PoE network switch or similar device within the cabling network.
Intercom cabling is another system that falls within a low voltage wiring contractors work. Short for Intercommunication Device, an intercom is a stand-alone system for voice and/or video communication within one or more buildings. A person can speak into an intercom device or microphone and be heard and possibly seen by one or more other people in another room or area. Intercom can be part of a security system, or used to broadcast information over a large area. Wired intercom systems use Cat5, Cat 5E or Cat 6 cabling, depending on the application.
When Should Low Voltage Be Installed?
Low voltage structured cabling is a sub-specialty to the electrical trades. An electrical contractor may have their own low voltage crew but often, a specialty low voltage installation company is hired because of rapid technology changes that many non-specialty organizations can’t maintain. As an electrical sub-specialty, low voltage installation will be concurrent with or follow shortly after rough and finish electrical work, which is mostly after other trades have completed their work.
Commercial Building Construction
In commercial building construction, it is important that low voltage wiring pathways are well thought out. Whether new construction or an existing space renovation, coordinating with the other trades that will be installing their work in proximity to the low voltage cable runs helps avoid mistakes that affect the performance of the low voltage network system. Plans and specifications for the projects will list standards, reference codes and guidelines that must be followed. Well informed low voltage wiring companies will understand and comply with the standards that govern their trade.
Data Center Architecture and Installation
Data centers are facilities that house critical applications and data for a single or multiple organizations. All IT content is sourced from or passes through a data center’s infrastructure of servers, routers, switches, firewalls and other components. Data center cabling solutions will include Ethernet cabling and data center fiber cabling. There are many types of data centers. They can be a room in a building, an entire building, multiple buildings, or cloud based. Or combinations of same. Data center architecture and installation ideally comes from a design that factors in flexibility, resiliency, redundancy, security and future scalability.
Office Network Cabling
Office network cabling in an existing occupied facility can be a challenge. Carefully planning every aspect of the installation in advance will help avoid future problems and can include flexibility for future expansion. Choosing the correct cabling solutions will insure the desired connectivity, speed and performance. Labeling and color coding of cables with specific purposes helps with the installation and with any future trouble shooting. Also important is correct cable length. Different cable categories lose signal strength after a certain length. Timing of network cabling installation in occupied space should be when there is minimal staff present.
This guide only skims the complexities of low voltage wiring and structured cabling installation. There are seemingly infinite factors to consider when designing and installing structured cabling networks for the large array of technology driven devices and systems. As technology expands, so will the component options and installation methods required to keep up with the needs of the end users. For peace of mind, hire a professional low voltage wiring company that is committed to keeping up with advances in technology and adhering to best practice standards for their specialties.