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.
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:
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.
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 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 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.
So, how do you decide? Once again there are a number of factors involved:
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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Michael Turner, ICT manager, Downend School