Cables are made up of individual wires bundled together to conduct signals or power. These conductors can be made of one of two materials — copper (which is an electrical wire) or glass/plastic (which carries fiber-optic transmissions). These cables are then wrapped in materials such as ties, bands, tape, or braiding of plastic or metal.
Copper wires use twisted pairs, which improve their electrical performance. Twisted copper cable can deliver speeds of up to 1 Gigabit for Category 5e and up to 10 gigabits for Category 6. It is far more affordable than fiber and should work for most businesses unless your environment is within the range of any kind of electrical interference.
Fiber-optic cable is made by drawing glass (silica) or plastic to a diameter a little larger than a human hair. As the most advanced cabling material, optical fiber can deliver the fastest speed, is the most durable, and can go the longest distance (up to approximately 6500 feet). Optical fiber is also the best option for rapidly growing your business, as it can deliver more bandwidth. It is also more secure. The downside to optical fiber is its higher price.
Choosing the cable option that is best for your business requires that you consider the following issues.
First you need to determine the speed and bandwidth that will properly support the operation of your business. You can start by determining the following:
- How many workstations are currently connected to your network?
- What is the volume of data your network needs to handle?
- What is the distance the cable needs to travel?
- What are your budgetary limitations?
There are many applications available to help you quickly monitor your network’s usage over several days to determine how much bandwidth you need. Then you should add extra bandwidth. By adding more bandwidth than you currently need, it’s easier to adapt your network as your business grows. Having extra bandwidth lets you quickly add workstations or expand data usage without having to upgrade your cabling.
As bandwidth demands continue to rise, manufacturers of copper and fiber cable are creating products that offer greater capacity and flexibility. Fiber optic has been considered the faster option for many years, but those producing copper cable are constantly working to increase the speeds to produce faster Ethernet connections.
Copper wire cabling was long considered the less expensive option. Yet, with growing demand, the costs of fiber optic are coming down. You’ll need to compare the costs vs. the performance of these two options and determine which one best fits your needs and your budget.
Measuring the length of cable needed is more than just a distance consideration. That’s because some cable materials are designed to transmit data a greater distance than others. Fiber-optic signals can travel a longer distance with less loss.
Interference and Security
Fiber-optic cables are immune to electromagnetic interference that can be a problem with copper wiring. You should evaluate the environment in which your cable will run. Interference appears when the cable runs too close to electromagnetic equipment or radio waves from sources such as medical CAT scanners or military installations. If you purchase twisted copper cabling that has been properly jacketed, however, it can reduce some of this interference and be almost as durable as optical fiber.
Even though it’s convenient to use Wi-Fi for casual communication, remember that a hard-wired network helps contribute to the speed of your network and is far more reliable. For your important business processes and communications — including your VoIP telecom service — a cabled network is also less vulnerable to interference and is far more secure.
You may be surprised to find dramatic differences in the pricing of cable. That’s because every element in a cable contributes to how well it performs: the jacks, termination process, and jacketing. Most bargain-priced cables tend to cut corners on materials and construction and will not perform as well as higher quality cable. Purchasing cable by well-known, industry-leading manufacturers will help ensure the highest performance and reliability.
We have heard many stories of cheap cabling not performing even close to the specifications listed on the packaging and causing interference because they are not properly constructed.
It’s important to remember that, when selecting cabling for your business, cables can be stepped on and bent, stretched and spilled on. They run inside walls, around corners, under floors, and through ceilings. Having well-made cables that use quality parts and deliver on their listed specifications is key to reducing replacement costs and keeping your network and your business running smoothly.
Once you have selected the proper cable type for your application it is imperative the cable is installed correctly using industry best practices and techniques. The best quality cable and connectors will not perform well if not installed properly. Have your cabling vendor test each cable to be sure it meets or exceeds industry standards. Then ask your vendor for written certification results. This is the only way you can ensure the cabling you purchased meets your performance requirements.
Today, Building Industry Consulting Service International, Inc. (BICSI), an industry association, helps develop the ANSI/EIA/TIA 568B structured cabling system standards for cabling that cover the design, installation and integration of information communications technology — including optical, fiber, copper and wireless-based distribution systems.
As an ANSI-accredited, consensus-based standards development organization, their measures help businesses like yours confidently choose safe, efficient and effective products, systems and services. Purchasing network cabling that meets their standards is important. Any vendor that is a member of The Ideacom Network provides only products that meet these standards.
As cables are installed, make sure you or your vendor add identification to each one. Note what the cable connects. Over the years cables may be added, upgraded, or moved. Knowing which cable goes where can simplify and speed these processes.
As you speak to cabling providers, be sure their installation will be completed according to code. This can avoid dangers inherent in putting certain materials in places that can create harmful effects.
Done correctly, cable can support your business needs for many years to come, so always buy cable from a source you can trust.