Structured Cabling Systems Explained

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You have probably heard of structured cabling systems, but perhaps don’t fully comprehend the extent of its functions, importance, or design components. It is one of the most crucial components of local area networks (LANs), metropolitan area networks (MANs), and wide area networks (WANs). In the networking world, structured cabling is often thrown around as a buzzword but it’s far more and much more critical than most think. 

For those wanting to know more, this primer will get you up to speed on what structured cabling systems are and their significance to network structure. 

What is a Structured Cabling System? 

Every structured cabling system is unique, designed to fit both the need and location, while also incorporating the stringent standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Each is a complete system of cabling and associated hardware, forming a comprehensive infrastructure for telecommunications and data. 

What makes every structured cabling system unique are: 

  • The building’s architectural structure
  • The products used for cable and connections
  • The intended function of the system
  • Present and future equipment the cabling will support
  • How an already installed system is structured
  • Customer requirements
  • The manufacturer warranties 

Needless to say, the professionals who design and install these systems have to be great at what they do. A lot is on the line. 

Industry Standards

The U.S. structured cabling industry works under ANSI in cooperation with the EIA/TIA TR42 committee to maintain voluntary standards and practices within the industry. Standards are published detailing design, installation, and maintenance. 

Due to these standards, the methods to complete and maintain the cabling systems are uniform. System performance and the increasing complexity of system design demand standardization. 

Having strict standards results in:

  • Consistency of the design and installation
  • Physical and transmission line requirements conformance
  • Uniformity in documentation
  • A consistent basis when examining a proposed expansion or changes 

Components of an Installation

Structured cabling installations are comprised of varying components but typically include: 

  • Entrance facilities
  • Vertical and horizontal backbone cables
  • Vertical and horizontal backbone pathways
  • Outlets for work areas
  • Network equipment rooms
  • Cross-connect facilities
  • Transition points
  • Consolidation points
  • Telecommunication rooms or closets
  • Multi-user telecommunication outlet assemblies (MUTOAs) 

Those might sound very foriegn, so a brief description of the most important is in order. 

Entrance facility

The internal cabling needs to connect to external services, requiring an entry point for outside cable facilities. This is the entrance facility. 

A data service provider would consider the entrance facility the demarcation point between their network responsibility and that of the premises. Entrance facilities include underground, tunnel, buried cable, and aerial as their four primary types of entrance.

Backbone cabling

Structured cabling systems branch out from the entrance facility to different floors of the building or other buildings on campus on the backbone cabling system. These would be the cables that handle the significant traffic from across the network coming from equipment rooms or telecommunications closets and running to the entrance facility. 

Horizontal and vertical cables and pathways

Fairly self-explanatory, cables run horizontally on each building floor and vertically to the different floors.

Transition points

ANSI standards allow for just one transition point for each horizontal cabling. The transition points are where one type of cable meets another, from one of two types of points, the consolidation point or a MUTOA.

Consolidation points

Equipment rooms house connecting hardware that allows for the interconnection of the permanently installed horizontal cables (typically the backbone) to the moveable horizontal cables that extend to the work outlets. This consolidation point pulls together the individual data streams into the cabling designed for significant data transmission.

Multi-user telecommunication outlet assemblies (MUTOAs)

MUTOAs are telecommunications outlets arranged into a single assembly housing. They would typically be located to serve particular modular partitions in an office arrangement. A line cord would then run from the MUTOA to each work area within the modular partitions and connected to the device on the desk. 

Equipment rooms, work area outlets, and telecommunications closets shouldn’t need any explanation. 

The Benefits of a Structured Cabling System

“A well-designed structured cabling system makes changes like moving and adding system components far easier than long patch cords running from equipment racks,” says Hazim Gaber, mechanical engineer and CEO of HSM Global and ehZee Engineering corporation. “This ease of making changes or maintaining the structured cabling reduces the potential for downtime as human error is substantially minimized.” 

A logical and organized approach not only creates ease in making changes in the system but saves substantial amounts of time with more accessible cable and port tracing. 

Never underestimate the power of pleasing aesthetics with the much cleaner system than the old point-to-point method. Gone are the days when a random cable might be hanging down the wall. 

The Risks of Not Switching to Structured Cabling

Two main risks exist for those remaining with old point-to-point structures; downtime and airflow. 

Unorganized infrastructure fosters mistakes, creates messy cables that get in the way, and tangled messes of cables cause stress to individual cables as they are removed or placed. Human error, faulty cables, tangled messes, and an inability to locate ports produce costly downtime.

Airflow might not be something many think of, but it is very hazardous to switch equipment. Bulky messes of cables impede airflow and hinder air entering the network rooms, and lack of airflow is an invitation to a disaster.

Structured cabling is crucial for every organization where the prevention of downtime matters. Freeing network professionals’ time with an organized and elegant system allows them to streamline systems and work on other issues requiring their attention. It’s a massive win for every organization that implements structured cabling.

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