5 Key Questions when planning network cabling installation

Our expert advice on choosing the best cables for your network infrastructure 

Express Data engineers are highly experienced in network infrastructure installation, including the planning, advice and installation of the most suitable components for network connectivity at your premises. 

This entire network infrastructure relies on installation of the right network cabling to provide the most effective physical connections for your needs. Choose wisely, and you will have seamless connectivity with excellent performance and durability. But instal the wrong cabling, and you risk harming the overall performance and reliability of your network, whilst increasing the chances of physical damage or future performance issues.   

In this blog, we look at the key questions to consider when planning any data cabling installation, and why you can trust experts at Express Data to give you the best advice. 

  1.  Technical cable capacity: what data do you need to transmit?

When deciding which cabling to use, you must first understand your data requirements. Until recently, most standard offices relied on email communications and phones, with minimal audio or visual requirements, so their network communications infrastructure could be supported by standard copper cabling systems. 

But suppose you run a high-end car showroom and want to run slick promotional videos to engage your customers? Data packages carrying audio-visual information demand high quality cabling to deliver a smooth user experience without signal interference.  

So, first we will look at the choice between different qualities of copper cabling and fibre optic cabling, and which is right for you. 

Copper cabling

Network cables are divided into categories (CAT) based mainly on bandwidth (measured in MHz), maximum data rate (measured in megabits per second) and shielding. 

CAT1 copper cabling was for some time the most common wiring used in homes and offices, consisting of an ‘unshielded twisted pair’(UTP) of copper wires. UTP cables are popular all over the world due to their low cost, ease of installation and flexibility. 

By the early 1990s, CAT3 cabling with four twisted pairs provided an increased data rate able to support ethernet networks as well as digital voice communications, and the cables required for data cabling installations have continued to evolve – the most sophisticated currently being CAT8. 

Improvements in the capability of copper cabling relate to: 

  • Speed or Data Rate: the amount of data the cable can transmit per second. Higher category cables such as CAT8 encode the data, so more bits can be transmitted in the same amount of time.  
  • Bandwidth or Frequency:  a property of the cable itself – the rate at which a signal will cycle each second. CAT5 cable can handle up to 100 million signals a second (100 MHz). Frequency can be improved by increasing the gauge of the conductor wires, adding more twists to the conductors, or adding shielding to each pair of conductors. 

Cable length 

Signals degrade as they travel along a copper cable, meaning there is a maximum length over which cable performance can be guaranteed. This attenuation can also be caused by ‘noise’ interference from electrical currents and radio frequencies. 

Each category of cable therefore defines a maximum distance over which the cable can be expected to perform at the stated level before beginning to degrade. Higher data rates than quoted can be achieved over shorter distances. 

Minimum Copper Cabling Category recommendation  

CAT6 is the minimum quality cabling recommended by experts at Express Data for any data cabling installation. Properly shielded twisted-pair cables minimise signal interference and electromagnetic interference, ensuring that data travels across the network fast and without corruption. CAT6 copper cabling has a maximum data rate of 1 Gbps over 100m; and as high as 10 Gbps over 37m. So, for a sophisticated car showroom our professional advice would be to install high quality, high-speed CAT6 cabling even though this carries a higher initial cost.  

Fibre Optic Cabling 

Fibre optic cable is a more advanced type of network cable, offering significantly improved performance over traditional copper cabling in terms of both bandwidth and speed. 

Data is transferred along optical fibre cabling as pulses of light, which pass along one or more transparent plastic or glass pipes about the breadth of an average human hair. The fibres are surrounded by a layer of cladding, and a sheath of several layers of insulated casing is wrapped around the cladded fibres, followed by a final outer jacket designed to protect the entire multi-stranded cable. 

The benefits of fibre optic cabling installation 

  • Fibre optic cabling is less bulky than traditional cabling, so saves space. 
  • Optical transmission achieves faster speeds and bandwidth. 
  • Since fibre optic cables carry light instead of electrical current, they are more resistant to attenuation, as well as general wear, damage and degradation. Fibre optic cables are safe to use in high-voltage locations, or where flammable gases, harsh chemicals or weather conditions are present. 
  • Fibre optic cables also provide better data security. 

Single mode or Multimode fibre optic cable 

Optical fibres can be configured as either single mode or multimode, depending how you wish to use them. 

  • Single mode fibre optic cable (OS) is made of very pure glass and requires a laser or laser diodes to produce a single wavelength of light that is injected into the cable. Single mode fibre bandwidth is in theory unlimited, because it allows only one light mode to pass through at a time: the core diameter is much smaller than in multimode cable, so the light that passes through the cables is not reflected too many times. This keeps attenuation to a minimum, making it suitable for longer distance cabling.  
  • Multimode fibre optic cabling (OM) has a large-diameter core that lets multiple modes of light pass through it. This means that more types of data can be transmitted, and it can also work with low-cost light sources like LEDs (light-emitting diodes). 

Choose the right fibre optic cabling  

Experts at Express Data can advise you whether fibre optic cabling is right for your specific application, and if so, whether multimode or single mode is best. 

  • Multimode fibre is ideal for lighter-capacity bandwidth including general data and voice applications, and shorter-distance use, such as when adding to an existing network.  
  • Single mode fibre is best suited to high-bandwidth network links over extended areas up to 40km, such as on a large campus, or for data cabling installations across separate sites.  
  • Multimode and single mode cables cost about the same, but multimode fibre installations can be much cheaper due to the lower price of multimode transceivers and components.  
  1. Environment: where will your network cabling run?

The location of your network infrastructure will dictate where your cabling will run, and this may play a role in identifying the best type of cable for your purposes. At Express Data we help our customers understand how to choose the right data cabling installation for the environment.  

For example, we were asked to quote for the installation of cabling under a car park between a customer’s two offices. In such situations there are many issues to be considered. For example, what bandwidth and speed of data transmission do they need? How far away are the premises from each other? Where exactly will the network cabling installation run? Have they considered ensuring that the data cabling installation is future proof, so far as possible? 

The right data cabling for its environment 

In this case, we were able to give our customer clear advice which saved them from wasting money by installing the wrong network infrastructure cabling: 

  • Between two buildings you need to consider whether the electrical supply may be from different sources. 
  • Earth loops can also be an issue in these circumstances.  
  • The premises were in a wet and windy area where even external copper cabling would not survive long, even in ducting. 
  • Any external cabling must be rodent-proof. 

Having analysed the situation, we recommended that instead of copper cabling, we instal low grade multimode SWA (steel wire armour) fibre optic cabling which is much more robust in this situation than copper cabling. This fibre optic cabling installation solution was accompanied by a 20 year guarantee, whilst offering plenty of capacity for future needs. 

  1. Health & Safety: do you need fire-retardant cabling?

Sadly, recent public investigations into significant fires have shown that electrical cabling has been responsible for personal injury. Many buildings have vast bundles of copper cabling throughout, wrapped in a sheath that produces dense smoke, toxic fumes, acid gas and burning droplets when exposed to fire.  

Low-Smoke Zero Halogen (LSZH) insulated and sheathed cables produce very low levels of smoke and toxic fume, and no acid gases. The Construction Products Regulations (CPR) have now introduced fire safety ratings covering all construction products, including electrical cables.  

Under the CPR, products are tested and certified with a fire safety rating from A to F depending on their flame characteristics, with additional classifications for their smoke, flaming droplets, and acidity. The right cable type and capability for your use will depend on the fire safety regulations for your specific installation and environment, and may be BCA, CCA, DCA or even ECA. As a guide, in some circumstances the cable and content materials must self-extinguish if they catch fire, and any molten material must cool in the air before it can drop on people beneath.  

It is important that you consider such issues when planning your network cabling installation. As a matter of principle, Express Data now instals nothing less than a CCA rated cabling for Health & Safety reasons, to protect both you and all those under your care. 

  1. Can you future-proof your network infrastructure?

At Express Data we are highly experienced network infrastructure installation and connectivity experts, and we pride ourselves on delivering the best network connectivity solutions for your business. This means we understand the need to look beyond the short term, taking account of the fact that low quality or unsuitable cabling may risk interruption to your business and require costly repair. 

The quality of cabling used in your network infrastructure installation directly impacts not only the reliability of your data transmission, but the risk of network downtime due to the need for maintenance or replacement. A properly-designed network infrastructure installed by experts at Express Data may have a higher initial cost, but is likely to prove more cost-effective in the longer term by minimising the operational costs and frustrations associated with downtime and troubleshooting. 

We also have a commercial awareness of the need to balance short-term savings with long-term investments. Advances in technology have led to an exponential increase in data volumes, particularly for audio and visual data, and lower-quality cables cannot transfer bulk data efficiently. A primary consideration when installing network cabling is therefore the ability to support your potential future speed and data cabling requirements due to expansion or technical innovation. 

  1. Do you need extra data security?

In some cases, the driving requirement is not for high-speed data, but high security. If this is an issue, you should consider installing cabling that can enhance the overall security of your network installation by reducing the risk of physical ‘clamp and extract’ attacks. Properly shielded cables protect against data interception and unauthorized access, so help to safeguard sensitive information carried across your network from potential threats. 

The cabling experts for network infrastructure installations 

Asking yourself these 5 key questions will help you choose the right cabling solutions for your network infrastructure installation. Or you could simply hand the problem over to Express Data, the experts in cabling network connectivity solutions. 

We have the technical expertise and experience to identify the right cabling for your business, looking carefully at your physical environment and the demands on your network installation. Express Data can advise on data cabling installation, computer cabling installation, network cabling installation and fibre optic installation, and has experts available to help you choose the right network cabling solutions. 

You can trust us to give advice and plan your network infrastructure installation with a strong commercial awareness of the need for a robust, practical network solution, giving proper consideration to the overall costs. 

For ‘right first time’ network infrastructure installation in high-risk areas, contact Express Data now on 0113 277 4111 or email info@expressdata.co.uk.

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