Structured Cabling

Although the physical layout of a network will to some extent be determined by its size and the type of networking technology chosen, the cabling system is a critical element of any network. It is generally accepted that a significant number of network failures are caused primarily by cable-related problems. Getting the cabling system right, therefore, is essential for an effective data communications system. With this need in mind, the development of industry standards for cabling standards has accompanied developments in network and communication technology. National and international telecommunications cabling standards have been widely adopted, all of which are based on the American ANSI/TIA/EIA cabling standards. The standards have been evolving since the mid-1980s, with the aim of creating a structured system for data communications cabling systems used in buildings that would support multi-vendor networking products and environments. The result was the TIA/EIA 568 Commercial Building Telecommunication Cabling standard, released in 1991. The ISO/IEC-11801 Generic Customer Premises Cabling standard is an international cabling standard based on the ANSI/TIA/EIA-568 cabling standard. Related European standards include EN 50173 and EN 50174.

The standards define how to design, build, and manage a cabling system that is structured, meaning that the system consists of a number of discrete sub-systems or blocks, each of which has specific performance characteristics. The blocks are organised hierarchically within a unified communication system. A workgroup LAN block, for example, has lower-performance requirements than a network backbone block, which usually requires high-performance fibre-optic cable. The standards have evolved to support high-speed networking technologies such as Gigabit Ethernet, and advanced cable types such as Category 6 and Category 7 twisted pair cable.

Structured cabling (sometimes referred to as premise wiring) defines a generic telecommunication wiring system for commercial buildings, and comprises the cabling, connectors and accessories used to connect local area network and telephone system equipment within a building. It breaks cabling systems down into two main elements, horizontal wiring and vertical (or backbone) wiring. Structured cabling standards define the media, topology, termination and connection points, and administrative practice to be used.

Some terms of reference are defined below:

Structured cabling elements

Structured cabling elements

The diagrams below show the relationship between the horizontal cabling elements in a structured cabling system for both a cross-connect and an interconnect arrangement. In both cases, the permanent link is the telecommunications outlet (TO), the horizontal cabling, and the horizontal interconnect (patch panel). An optional transition point (TP) is allowed within the 90 metres of horizontal cabling.

Horizontal cabling elements

Horizontal cabling elements

The channel is the work area cable (the patch lead) from the terminal equipment into the terminal outlet, the permanent link as already described, a patch cord linking two patch panels, and a final equipment cable into the LAN equipment. The use of two patch panels (a cross-connect) is optional. In many systems, only one is used (an interconnect). Note that in the interconnect version, the maximum combined length of patch cords A and B is 10 metres. In the cross-connect arrangement, the maximum combined length of patch cords A, B and C is also 10 metres.

Some requirements and recommendations

Backbone cabling (including campus cabling) and horizontal cabling

Backbone cabling (including campus cabling) and horizontal cabling

Recommended Cabling
100Ω 4-pair UTP cabling is recommended, as it has a relatively low cost and supports a range of applications. Enhanced Category 5 (Cat5E) is the suggested minimum specification, as it will support data rates of up to 1 Gbps. Many new installations are now employing Category 6 cabling to support current and future high-bandwidth applications.

150Ω 2-pair STP is generally used for Token Ring applications, although due to its extended bandwidth it can also be used for broadband video applications up to 300 MHz, or for 155-Mbps ATM.

Coaxial cable is not recommended for horizontal wiring.
Fibre optic cable, although both more expensive more difficult to install than other types of cable, is the recommended transmission medium for backbone cabling, because it offers high speed transmission, high bandwidth, and carries data over much greater distances than copper cable. It is also immune to electromagnetic interference, and less likely to require replacement (fibre can also be used for horizontal wiring runs exceeding 100 metres).

100Ω 4-pair UTP cabling can also be used in short-to-medium distance vertical cabling in voice and data networks.

150Ω 2-pair STP can be used for Token Ring networks.

50Ω 10Base2 coaxial cable is recognised by the TIA/EIA standard as a suitable choice for economical vertical wiring, but it is rarely, if ever, used in new installations.