Copper Cabling Services

Copper Cabling can be compared to the veins of an organisation carrying data to the people who need it. ‘Out of sight, Out of Mind’, a well installed copper cabling system can be the difference between a network that works efficiently and one that does not, and it’s often when there are faults on a copper cabling installation that company staff realize how important a well installed and a well maintained cabling infrastructure is.

Copper cabling breaks down into these 4 key areas:

– Cat 5e Cabling
– Cat 6 Cabling
– Cat 6a Cabling
– Voice Cabling

Cat 5e

Cat 5e is by far the most widely deployed form of structured cabling system in operation. Comparatively inexpensive yet extremely versatile, Cat 5e can be deployed to fulfil almost all requirements a copper cabling system may present. Cat 5e was initially developed as an improvement or enhanced version of the legacy Cat 5 cabling standard and intended to allow data rates of 100mbps (Fast Ethernet) over cable distances of up to 100m, although if installed well, there is no reason that Cat 5e cabling cannot carry 100Mhz, 1000mbps (Gigabit Ethernet) at up to the same 100m threshold. Though not limited to, there are 3 core types of Cat 5e cable:

– Cat 5e UTP
– Cat 5e FTP
– Armoured Cat 5e

UTP or Unshielded Twisted Pair cable offers 4 balanced pairs of twisted copper cable. Using two pairs for fast Ethernet and four pairs for Gigabit Ethernet, this cable has been the defacto-standard in copper cabling for most structured cabling deployments since the late 1990’s. Aside from the high data-rates this cable can deliver, it will also effectively deliver advanced features such as PoE and PoE+.

FTP or Foiled Twisted Pair cable offers all of the flexibility of Cat 5e UTP, however due to the extra foil surrounding the cable, these cables are more robust against sources of EM interference. This makes FTP cabling (so long as it is properly earthed at either end of the cable in line with TIA/EIA standards) ideal for deployment in harsh EM environments such as production facilities and industrial environments.

Armoured Cat 5e comes in both FTP and UTP formats. Wire armouring gives the cable an additional layer of mechanical protection and is perfect and often required in harsh deployments such as industrial, ATEX and Nuclear facilities.

With all of the options available with Cat 5e this is a very flexible, very reliable cable that will suit most industry needs.

Cat 6

Cat 6 cabling was in many ways a stepping stone standard to Cat 6a. In principle, whereby Cat 5e cabling was designed to operate at Fast Ethernet speeds, Cat 6 was developed specifically for the operation of Gigabit Ethernet at cable distances of up to 100m. As was noted in the previous section, Cat 5e will carry this bandwidth at this distance, the benefit however with Cat 6 is that due to the pair segregation within the cable, there is greater headroom within the cable construction for Gigabit Ethernet transmission.

The general technical differences between Cat 5e and Cat 6 are in the overall performance of the transmission and the extension of the available bandwidth from 100 MHz (Cat 5e) to 200 MHz using Cat 6 cable. Cat 6 offers better levels of Insertion Loss (IR), Near End Crosstalk (NEXT), Return Loss (RL), and Equal Level Far End Crosstalk (ELFEXT). These improvements provide a higher signal-to-noise ratio, allowing higher reliability for current applications, particularly in environments with higher levels of EM interference and higher data rates for future proofing applications.

To a great extent, the Cat 6 standard has become defunct in that Cat 5e will provide most of what Cat 6 will, and Cat 6a far outperforms Cat 6.

Cat 6 cabling comes in similar forms as Cat 5e with UTP and Armoured variations being available. Manufacturers no longer make FTP versions of Cat 6 cable as such a cable is in effect Cat 6a.

Cat 6a

Cat 6a is the latest fully TIA ratified standard of copper cabling on the market. There has been a good deal of industry talk about the looming ratification of Cat 7, and while Cat 7 is ratified under the ISO 11801 standard in North America, the TIA have yet to issue a final ratification of the standard meaning that to deploy a Cat 7 system within the UK could potentially mean that the system may fall short of the final TIA ratification standards. At present, Fluke Networks, one of the major instrument and test equipment designers in the world, are not deploying their TDR cable testers with Cat 7 test tolerances as these may change by the time the TIA finally ratify the standard. This ratification will likely happen in the near future because there are growing calls for the ability to run 40GBASE-T Ethernet on copper cabling systems.

Cat 6a stands for ‘Category 6 Augmented’, and is specifically designed to run 10 Gigabit Ethernet at cable distances of up to 100m. With each pair individually screened, there is no UTP version of this cable. The individual screening on each pair allows a cable frequency of 500Mhz, drastically higher than even standard Cat 6 which only carries transmissions at 200Mhz. This is where the additional cable performance comes from along with improvements and far more stringent test criteria for IR, NEXT, RL and ELFEXT. In addition to this, the additional signal shielding used in Cat 6a affords far greater protection against Alien Crosstalk which can be a problem in high density cabling installations.

The drawback for a Cat 6a installation is the cost, typically an installation can cost 2-3 times more than legacy Cat 5e and Cat 6 deployments, therefore with any installation, a cost/benefit exercise must be undertaken. Are the benefits of Cat 6a necessary and thereby worth the additional cost?

Voice Cabling

Voice cabling is undergoing something of an evolution at the moment. Traditional voice cabling using large multi-core copper cable is still necessary as many sites still run off traditional telephone systems. Even within BT’s own infrastructure, there is a huge proportion of multi-core cabling fed from DP’s both in the public and private domain.

On a private business site, typical voice installations can vary from very simple deployments with perhaps two or three telephones cabled from the front plate of a BT master socket, right up to complex backbone systems where the phone system cables into a frame, and then jumpers telephone lines onto multi-cores out to dozens of 301A boxes across a campus. These systems can often be complex to manage and time consuming to run. Even with the advent of Voice over IP (VoIP) technology, the skillsets needed to install and maintain these systems is a reality for many businesses.

VoIP on the other hand has simplified the cabling deployment for most new voice systems today. While the install overheads can be high, the running costs are considerably less than traditional voice systems and from the perspective of structured cabling, in many cases VoIP systems half the requirement for network points across a site with PC’s being able to piggyback off the telephone handsets instead. That said, even VoIP cabling presents its own unique challenges, like for example the provision of hardwired mains for each telephone handset or the deployment of a PoE or PoE+ system for the provision of powering the handsets. In addition to that, there is a considerable drawback for VoIP in the event of a power outage whereby along with a buildings power supply, all of the phones on site also die.