A Weak Cable Backbone Can Paralyze a Project

Whether it’s being run between switches and routers for Ethernet, or between baluns for a video security system, UTP is all around us. Just like the previous two media types, coax and fiber, there are things you can do to ensure your cable plant will function as desired for as long as possible.

Currently, in the traditional security market, our uses for UTP are a little more flexible and forgiving than the networking market. We are primarily using UTP for one of two reasons, either to send video via baluns or to send control data of some kind.

For these applications, we can be a little less selective with the type of UTP cable we use. For instance, most baluns can operate well within normal parameters on anything Cat-5 and up. Some will even work just fine on Cat-3. The same is usually said for control data runs. We don’t need to be quite as picky.

On the networking side, however, the type of UTP becomes much more important. The standards bodies that govern the rules surrounding network cabling have established tight protocols, ensuring proper performance.

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), for instance, specifies things right down to the number of twists per pair. Most importantly, they have determined the standards necessary to achieve the highest throughput possible on each type of cable.

When installing an infrastructure that is going to support networking such as Ethernet, it is important to make sure that your layout meets those standards, by certifying the cable.

Why Certification Is Important for Wire as Well as Installers

For the sake of this discussion, the word “certification” has two meanings: certification of the cable itself, and certification of the installer.

With increasing frequency, specifiers are requiring that any cable installation be professionally certified. This may be by the installing company or an outside firm specifically hired to do so. This certification usually consists of mechanical tests on each cable drop.

These tests verify several different pieces of information; all done to ensure the cable can carry the specified amount of data at the maximum speed under the circumstances. These tests are specified under TIA and International Standards Organization (ISO) specifications. Some of the tests are:

  • Wiremap – used to check proper physical     installation, pinouts, etc.
  • Propagation delay – checks the amount     of time it takes for a signal to travel from one end of the cable to the     other
  • Delay skew – checks the difference in     propagation delay between pairs
  • Attenuation – checks both insertion loss     and return (reflected) signal loss
  • Crosstalk – checks near-end cross-talk     (NEXT) and far-end cross-talk (FEXT)

One big reason for making sure your cable installation passes these certification tests is to eliminate your installation as the cause in the event of any problems with devices in the system or on the network.

Just as with the cable, it is becoming more desirable for the installer to be certified as well. In networking and other industries, a certification is used to hopefully gauge an installer’s competence and knowledge of cabling concepts.

The most well known cabling certifying organization is the Building Industry Consulting Service Int’l (BICSI). It offers several certifications for both the installation and the design of cable infrastructures.

For the installation professional, BICSI has several levels of training (Commercial Installer Levels 1 & 2 and Technician) that provide different scopes of knowledge and skill, helping establish a career path for those in that industry.

On the design front, BICSI has the RCDD (Registered Communications Distribution Designer) certification. This cert tests the knowledge and skills required to properly design a physical infrastructure to current specs and performance scope. This is another well-respected certification, especially in the data/networking space.

In all installations, clients expect a certain level of professionalism and quality. Certifying both the physical installation as well as your installers shows your customer you also share that commitment to professionalism. And it allows you to cover yourself and aid in troubleshooting in case problems develop later.

As we’ve seen, there are still many ways to ensure your existing installation will last a long time without jumping completely on the convergence bandwagon. Coax will remain a viable product for some time, while fiber and UTP will be able to migrate easily into the next market.

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