What Data Cabling Standard Should I Opt For?

No matter how fast your voice and data cabling may be, your network will only ever run as fast as the slowest devices connected to it.

So does the cabling you use really matter all that much?

Well, in short, yes. If you’re refurbishing or moving to a new office then it makes a lot of sense to invest in cabling, as it not only gives you a significant degree of future proofing and ensures that your network data cabling will be able to cope with any speed of device you connect to it.

Considerations when installing a new network

When you are installing a network, the technology isn’t the only consideration. You also need to take account of the current and future needs of the business. There are a number of factors to consider here:

  • How many workstations do you need to connect?
  • What volume of data does the network need to process?
  • What is the longest cable run?
  • What is your budget?

You can measure data throughput on an existing network using an application (there are many free ones available online). You should remember to add additional capacity to cope with any future expansion though. This means that you can introduce extra workstations or more data capacity without having to change the cabling.

Data cable choices

The next step is to decide on the type of cable to use. Until recently, this would have meant deciding between the various Cat standards for copper cables. Now, however, there is also the option of a fibre optic network.

Copper Cables

Copper cables use twisted pairs to improve their performance. The long-established Cat 5e standard can offer speeds of up to one gigabit, which should be adequate for most smaller offices. Cabling distances up to 100 metres are possible without significant signal loss. Cat 6 can deliver up to 10 gigabits, should you need to handle larger volumes of data. In most cases, unshielded cable is fine unless you have an environment that is subject to electrical interference. Read our guide to copper cabling standards here.

Fibre Optic Cables

Fibre optic cable, on the other hand, offers much faster speeds and can cover greater distances (up to 2000 metres without signal loss). Fibre is also more secure as it’s immune to signal eavesdropping and to electrical interference. On the downside, it’s harder to install, as it can’t turn sharp corners, and is significantly more expensive than copper.

Decision time

So, how do you decide? Once again there are a number of factors involved:

  • Speed – the data demands on networks are becoming ever greater so you need to plan for a fast connection, beyond your current needs.
  • Distance – for most LANs this isn’t too much of an issue, but larger companies may need the extra distance offered by fibre.
  • Cost – copper cabling is much cheaper than fibre, although the cost of fibre is gradually coming down. You need to look at the relative performance differences and decide which suits your budget.
  • Interference – copper cables can be subject to interference from items such as industrial machinery or medical scanners. In these environments, you need to consider either shielded cable or fibre.
  • Security – For important and confidential communication, a wired network will always be more secure than Wi-Fi, regardless of whether you opt for fibre or copper cable.
  • Quality – it can be tempting to cut corners on the cost of cabling, but if you buy cheaply the quality is going to suffer. This applies not just to the cable itself but also to the sockets and connectors used.
  • Installation – having chosen your cabling standard you need to ensure that it is installed correctly and is tested to ensure it meets industry standards.

It’s expensive and troublesome to replace an entire structured cabling system, so you should think about the speeds your network will require in the future and make sure that you invest in the cabling that can handle it.

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"TVNET have saved us a considerable amount on what we were previously paying to bigger firms whilst delivering a superior installation. I cannot recommend them highly enough as a local networking specialist."
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