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Cabling 101

There many questions to be asked when taking on the project of having your new or existing office rewired. There will be vendors saying that it is best to run all Category 6 cabling (Cat6) and there will be some at the other end of the spectrum saying that all you need is Category 5e (Cat5e) cabling for computers and Category 3 (Cat 3) cabling for your phones. We will attempt to answer some of those questions for you.
What are the differences between the different categories of cabling?

We are only going to touch on three types of cabling right now, Cat3, Cat5e, and Cat6 cabling. We will not be talking about fiber-optic cabling as it is rarely used in the small office environment. As technology has improved over the years there has been a need to transmit data faster between computers and the Internet. That has brought us to where we are today with improved cabling over the years past.

Traditionally, Category 3 cabling was used for voice drops throughout the office. This is still a viable solution for offices with a traditional phone system. However as the systems in today’s office environment get more advanced, it is best to run Category 5 cabling wherever you would be using a phone. The cost difference between the two is minimal and it will help to protect your investment in the future.

Now, the real difference between Cat5e and Cat6 cabling. The basic difference between the two categories is that Cat6 cabling can transmit as gigabit speed and Cat5e cabling does not. Newer computers and network switches are being offered with gigabit networking built into them at very attractive prices. For those with needs to transmit extremely large files across the network, Cat6 cabling should be bid.

Should I terminate all the voice and data cabling onto patch panels?

More and more this is being taken on a case by case basis. As more phone systems have their plugs on the front of the system, patch panels may become the best option for your company. This setup displayed to the right has the voice cabling on the patch panel and the voice cabling on the four “66 blocks” on the wall. This is also a good solution, even if your phone system has plugs on the front. Again, this is a case by case basis so have this discussion with your installer.

Now, there will always be exceptions to terminating all the data cabling to a patch panel. When you are in a smaller office with less than 10 computers sometimes it is more cost effective and cleaner to just have plugs put at the ends of the data cabling that plugs right into your switch or router. However, there are some larger companies that need to have their cabling terminated to patch panels so for ease of troubleshooting and administration.

In theory it is a very good idea to have all the voice and the data cabling terminated to a patch panel. It helps with the adds and changes that every company makes and can (I use that word very cautiously) save money for the company. However, it can also end up looking like a complete nightmare if not properly executed. You can see some examples of these nightmares by clicking here.

If you truly do want to go with the patch panel solution the best plan is to purchase a rack that will house all the patch panels and cable management. This solution will allow you to have the ease of management that you are aiming for while still keeping things looking neat and professional. If you neglect to get a rack your cabling will get ugly real fast and your ease of administration that you thought you had will get ugly really fast. Here is an example of a customer site we took over where the previous vendor did a very bad job of cable management. After we pulled out all the old cabling and installed new cabling, here is a picture of our finished work (I apologize for the picture quality).

Is it cheaper if I just have the electricians run the cabling?

No! I can’t tell you how many times we have run into the scenario where the customer thought they would save money by having their electrician run the cabling for their building. Simply put, in the end it will not save you any money. In fact, you will most likely end up spending more money fixing what the electricians did wrong. Electricians almost never know how to properly run cabling so when we get there after “the cabling has been run” there is always work to be done. When it is all said and done, the price that you end up paying us to fix what they should have done is more than the difference between our price and theirs to do it all.

Bottom line is that I would suggest having a qualified telephone company run all the cabling for your new or existing building. It is not worth the headache trying to figure out who did what and how it was done. You will save yourself some money in the end as well.

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