Have you ever wondered what it is that connects computers and networks? Network cable, in conjunction with the associated hardware (network switches, hubs, demarcation equipment), is responsible for computers connecting and transferring data across intranets (internal network) and the internet. Network cabling today is used for many other purposes besides computer networking. It can carry video for security camera systems and cable TV and AV (Audio/Visual) applications.


Network cabling is also a Building Maintenance and Access Control Systems control cable. Several types of lines are used for this purpose, including unshielded, shielded, fiber optic, and coaxial. In some cases, only one cable type is used in a network, while many different styles are used in others. Wireless systems are becoming increasingly popular, but always remember you still need network cabling for the wireless system. Two things still make network cabling better than a wireless network: it is much more secure and reliable.

Understanding Cable Type

Before understanding how cable networking works, you need to know how the various cables work. Each line is different, and the type of cable used for a particular network needs to be related to the network’s size, topology, and protocol. Here is a rundown of the lines that are most commonly used for network cabling:

Unshielded/Shielded Twisted Pair – This cable type is used for many Ethernet networks. There are four sets of pairs of wires inside the line. There is a thick plastic separator that keeps each team isolated through the run of cable. Each pair of wires is twisted so other devices will not interfere with the same network. The units are also confused at different intervals so they will not cause interference between themselves. In an application where there is a lot of Electromagnetic

Interference (EMI), such as a mechanical space, you may choose to use a shielded twisted pair, which has an outer shielding that adds extra protection from EMI. Categories 5e, 6, 6A, and 7 are today’s general choices. The twisted-pair cable is limited to 295′ on a horizontal run. Twisted pair cable is used for many applications. Standard station cabling for computers and VOIP phones, wireless access points, network cameras, access control, and building maintenance systems are just a few. This is one of the most reliable types of cables, and network failures are less common when used than when other lines are used.

Fiber Optic – Fiber optic cable is primarily used as backbone cable, although it is increasingly used as station cable (think FIOS). By backbone cable, I mean it connects Telecommunication Rooms within a space to each other. Fiber optic cable has huge broadband capacities, which allow it to carry large amounts of information at super-fast speeds. Fiber cables can cover great distances(hundreds of meters) instead of copper cables. Because these cables must work so hard and the information travels such distances, many layers of protective coating on fiber optic cables exist. Fiber cables transmit light as opposed to electrical current. Fiber optic cable requires much less power than high-speed copper does. Fiber optic cable is a great choice for high-speed, reliable communications.

Coaxial Cable – Coaxial cable usually falls under the scope of work of the network cabling installation contractor. Coax will be used for the cable television locations within your cabling space. The service provider will drop off the outdoor cable at the entry point. The contractor will run an extension (usually RG-11) to the local telecom closet within the space. The individual station runs(RG-6) will terminate on a splitter to connect to the service cable. The center of this type of cable has a copper conductor and a plastic coating that acts as an insulator between the conductor and the metal shield.

This cable is covered with a coating, which can vary in thickness. The thicker the coating, the less flexible it is going to be. There are a few types of terminations for coax. Compression, crimp, and twist-on are the three types of endings. The best method is compression as long as they are performed correctly. Crimp terminations are also reliable and require the right tool for your particular connector. I would not recommend twists, as they are unreliable and prone to problems. A few coax connectors are F, BNC, and RCA.

Network Cabling Components

Patch panel – This is where all station cables terminate within the Telecommunications Room. They are usually mounted on a wall-mount or floor-mount telecommunications rack. Typically, a patch panel has 24, 48, or 72 ports. There are a few different styles, such as angled or straight. Boards can also have the 110-type pins attached to the back of the board, or you can terminate jacks and snap them into the empty board.

Data Jack – This is the connector where each cable is terminated at the station side. The jacks are typically snapped into a faceplate ranging from 1 to 8 ports. Data jacks can be removed in a 568A or 568B pinout. Check with the customer or designer for the correct pinout.

RJ-45 Connector – The RJ-45 connector is installed on the end of a network cable, and they are eight-pin connectors. The most common place to find the RJ 45 is on a line terminating at a wireless access point. The RJ 45 is a male connector and would plug into the port on the WAP.

Wireless Access Points – These are devices that transmit network access wirelessly. Typically, they are mounted on the ceiling or wall, and a wireless survey would need to be performed to maximize the correct placement of WAPs. Contrary to popular belief, wireless devices STILL need to be fed with network cabling.

Cable Supports – (J-Hooks) Cable supports are mounted in the ceiling as a support structure for your cable bundles. The main path cable should be mounted to the concrete deck ceiling within the space. You can no longer hang j-hooks from ceiling supports, electrical or plumbing pipes, or other system infrastructure.

Wire Managers are installed between patch panels and switches to manage patch cables. They serve a fundamental purpose: keeping law and order in a Telecommunications Room. Nothing irks me more than finishing a brand new beautiful install and having the IT group come in and not use the wire managers, which ruins the job’s aesthetics. In addition, it sets bad precedence from the birth of the Telecommunications Room that others are sure to follow.

Firestop Sleeves – Firestop sleeves are vital to any network cabling installation. Gone are the days of banging holes into sheetrock and passing cables through. You must install a firestop sleeve when you penetrate any firewall on a job. Specific products are made for this, and EZ Path and Hilti make excellent versions in varying sizes. You can also install a sleeve of EMT pipe through a wall if you use firestop putty or silicone to seal off all openings. This can save lives and minimize damage in the event of a fire.

Cable Labels – All cables and termination points should have a unique label. This makes installation, maintenance, and troubleshooting much simpler. All labels should be computer-generated for a professional, and hand-written labels are unacceptable today.

Network Cabling Installation

A BICSI should design network cabling installation drawings certified RCDD (Registered Communication Distribution Designer). There are a few things that need to be considered.

The type of cabling solution to be implemented – The cabling vendor or customer will need to select a solutions manufacturer. Siemon, Leviton, Ortronics, and Panduit are some of the common choices. The type of cabling solution will need to be discussed. Cat 5e, Cat 6, Cat 6A, and Cat 7 are the copper types of network cables offered. The style of the racks, data jacks, faceplates, patch panels, and wire managers will also need to be discussed and chosen. Ensure this is done early; lead times can be long for certain manufacturers and styles.

The location of the network equipment and racks – The room housed is commonly referred to as the MDF (Main Distribution Frame) Data Room, Telco Room, or Telecommunications Room. All cable runs need to be within 100 meters. If cable runs are over 100 meters, you must add a second Telecommunications Room. This is also called an IDF(intermediate Distribution Frame). The IDF must often be connected to the MDF via fiber optic backbone cabling.

The MDF will house the service provider feed from the street, which will feed the network. Typically, you will also find security equipment and access control equipment here. It is a better design to have all the low-voltage systems housed in one location. Measure all equipment and racks that will be required based on cabling quantities. Include access control, security, electrical panels, and air conditioning units. The room needs to be large enough to accommodate all equipment.

The pathways of the cable trunks above the ceilings – Cable paths need to steer clear of electrical light fixtures or other sources of EMI (Electromagnetic Interference). Keep cable paths inaccessible area stop for future cable runs and ease of maintenance. All courses should be run above hallways or corridors, and cables enter individual rooms on sweeping 90-degree turns. Install a firestop sleeve or putty for all penetrations of a firewall.

Be careful when pulling cables so as not to bend them beyond their bend radius. This will cause a failure when testing. DO NOT tie cords to ceiling hangers or sprinkler pipes. They need to be connected at least every 5′ on horizontal and vertical runs. J-hook should be anchored to the concrete deck above. Use velcro wraps every 5′ or so when running cable to give your cable bundles a great-looking finish.

Terminating Network Cabling – When terminating cable, check the floor-plan numbering to each cable label to ensure the wires are in the correct spot. If something is not matching, leave that cable on the side to be “toned out” later on. Use a cable stripping & cutting tool to get a uniform cut on the cable jacket and ensure you won’t nick the copper conductors inside. Always keep each pair twisted as tight as possible right up to the pins where you terminate the cable.

This will ensure you won’t get a NEXT or Return Loss failure. Before you start any terminations, inquire whether the pinout will be 568A or 568B. This will determine which order the conductors are terminated in and are very important before you start. All cables should be dressed nicely and uniform. The project manager should make a termination chart of the technician’s patch panels to perform the terminations. This will show the back of the patch panels and where each cable gets terminated with it’s label number.

Testing your network cabling – There are several cabling testers out on the market. The tester we prefer to use is the Fluke DTX-1800 Cable Analyzer. This is an amazing tool. It will give you a detailed report of each cable that is tested. It tests for wire map, insertion loss, NEXT, PSNEXT, ACR-N, Insertion Loss, and many others. The best part about these new-age testers is their troubleshooting skills.

The Fluke will tell you where a cable is damaged and which particular conductor is damaged. If you terminate a pair out of sequence, the tester will tell you which team the error was made on what end. The Fluke does everything but fixes it for you! Most clients want to see verified test results. The new testers will provide cleaned-up PDF files of the test results. These can be emailed directly to the client.