Structured Cabling

Structured Cabling

by Liam McNaughton

Network cabling, also called "structured cabling" is at the core of your network. An appropriately specified and well installed network will last a business for at least 15 years, probably more. Yet many small businesses have bad cabling, which can lead to instability and poor performance. Furthermore, the instability caused by bad cabling can cause intermittent problems and performance problems which are difficult to diagnose.

So what does "good" cabling look like?

  • Good cabling is generally installed by an actual cabling contractor. Not a/ an electrician who says he can "do cabling", b/ an IT company that says they "do cabling", c/ the local computer shop, d/ your mate, e/ yourself. We use a dedicated cabling contractor, with years of experience. Whilst data cabling might seem simple, so does home wiring - and would you get an amateur to do this? Typical mistakes made by amateurs include: not using faceplates at all (just CAT5 cabling with RJ45 plugs), not using a patch panel, not labelling or testing all the links, bending the cable tightly round corners or crushing it, badly crimping the ends of the cable, not bracing the cable in any way so the connection isn't stressed and doesn't degrade over time, not using the right grade of cable (solid core/stranded), clipping the cable round the top of skirting boards… I could go on! Use a proper cabling contractor, or be prepared to take a serious risk with your network performance and reliability.
  • All the endpoints on the network should have a faceplate, which should be properly tested, and labelled. With a number! The number should match with the number on the patch panel back at the central point.
  • Cabling should either be hidden entirely, or housed inside appropriate housing such as plastic trunking or dado. It shouldn't be clipped (this damages the cable and its ability to transmit data), tightly bent or run very near to sources of high heat or interference (EMI) or damp.
  • At the "switch" end, the cabling should terminate in a patch panel - it shouldn't plug directly into a switch, or present at faceplates. Only a patch panel will give you long term stability and good connectivity.
  • The patch panel(s), switches and other core equipment should be housed in wall mounted comms cabinets or server cabinets if at all possible; these give greater protection to the equipment and cabling, and keep them free form interference or accidental damage - as well as being significantly neater.
  • The cable itself should be CAT5e or CAT6 grade, ideally LSZH (low smoke in a fire), and solid core (not stranded).
  • The cable should be supported at the patch panel end so that it doesn't stress the connection Splitters or extenders or couplers should be avoided at all costs (these markedly reduce connection reliability and performance)
  • WAPs (wireless access points) should be placed high up and ideally wall or ceiling mounted. This will be far more effective and provide better, more reliable coverage than hiding them in cupboards amongst other equipment.
  • Ideally EVERY device should have its own point, back to the main switch/patch panel/comms area. Switches can be used to extend the network where there aren't enough points, but this isn't ideal, as it introduces additional points of failure, makes support and manageability more difficult, and potentially reduces performance.
  • If installing devices with a built in switch (e.g. IP phone systems) it is much better to run a new connection to the device, rather than use the device (such as the phone) as a means to extend your network.

In summary:

When installing network points, make sure you install enough for current and future usage. When expanding, install more points as needed rather than bodge the job with extenders or splitters or more small switches. Always use a professional cabling company to install your cabling, not an electrician, builder, or amateur.

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