By Bob Catanzarite
What Do You Want?
What do you want your Structured Wiring to include? If you are trying to go the Do It Yourself route here you first need to ask yourself what you think your personal capabilities are. I'll do my best to expose you to the details of doing things yourself here and include links to other who may be able to do a better job of explaining things. Before you invest your time and money in this you should be reasonably sure you will be able to do this kind of work. You should be good with tools and have some experience with running wiring in a house. Having run power lines through walls to add an outlet is good background. Doing the same for telephone or cable TV is good. Don't bite off more than you can chew - but then again - don't underestimate your ability to learn something new.
Here are some of the wiring types that you can choose from:
Let's touch briefly on each of these choices.
For me data networking was one of the major reasons for taking on this project. With multiple PC in my home I wanted all of these PC to be networked. This would allow a number of things to happen:
- Internet Connection Sharing - Having multiple
PC's sharing a single internet connection.
The obvious data networking medium of choice for me was ethernet. With phone line networking (PNA), power line networking and several wireless networking options available you may ask why run special wiring dedicated to networking? Speed for starters. The best you can expect out of the other non-ethernet options I listed is 11Mbps. Even this 11Mbps that wireless is advertised as in reality only gets you in the 4.5Mbps range in real performance. CAT5 wiring supports Fast Ethernet running at 100Mbps and possibly even gigabit ethernet if you do everything right. Security is another for choosing ethernet. RF from the wireless and the power lines from the power line network extend outside your home opening up access to your network and the PC's connected to it. Cost is another. Ethernet is usually cheaper but wireless is getting pretty cheap as well.. My Links page includes links to information about the non-ethernet data networking options so you can explore those and decide for yourself. This site is all about structured wiring so I'll focus on ethernet.
Speed, security and cost alone are compelling reasons for choosing ethernet. Even if you want a wireless network to free your laptop or your PDA from wires you should still seriously consider adding ethernet as well. I can see how it will become practical to use the speed of ethernet to distribute audio and video through out your home. Here again you have look beyond your current wants and needs to anticipate the future.
Fiber Optics has a lot of potential for more widespread application. It's fast! It's expensive. And it requires a lot of skills and training. You may be able to handle this but it's beyond my capabilities for the time being. You'll have to look elsewhere for do it yourself help. Sorry, but I know my limitations. Check the links page for more on fiber optics. I may update this site soon to include more on fiber optics.
So, I'll focus here on ethernet because that is what I know best and because I think that most reasonably nimble fingered and nimble minded folk can do this.
The commonly used forms of ethernet in the home come in two speeds - 10 Mbps and 100 Mbps and now Gigabit ethernet. (100Mbps refers to 100 Mega or 100 million bits per second). Almost all new ethernet components operate at 100Mbps which is commonly called 'fast ethernet'. The 10Mbps are usually older components but there are some new components such as cable modems which operate at 10Mbps. And most NIC cards, hub, switches, etc. will operate at both speeds. Gigabit ethernet operating at 1000Mbps is available an becoming cheaper and more prominent but I'm not getting into the specifics of Gigabit Ethernet. Everything I have on this website does still apply when your dealing with Gigabit Ethernet.
On the cabling front CAT5 cabling will support up to 1000Mbps (Gigabit Ethernet). CAT5 will work fine down at 10Mbps as well. In addition there are CAT cable ratings of CAT5e and CAT6. See the chart below. CAT5e or enhanced CAT5 has higher capabilities in a number of parameters. But, CAT5e is still only rated for 100Mbps. You might wonder why bother with CAT5e if its bit rate is the same as CAT5? Cat5e has more headroom in some of the other cable performance specs, meaning several parameters are rated higher than they need to be. I'll explain an advantage of this extra headroom later in the website. CAT6 is capable of 1000Mbps.
These standards are more than a bit confusing and are changing as well. Added to that many cable suppliers are stating that their cable will work at higher bit rates. Most of those claims are probably correct. But, here is the commonly accepted simplification of all this:
See my Special Note about
Gigabit Ethernet below for more on how fast these CATx cables will actually
And here are some details of the different cable ratings:
See this link for some details about the differences between CAT5 and CAT5e. I used CAT5 cables, plugs and jacks in my data network because ,at that time (early in 2000), they were considerably cheaper than CAT5e. Today CAT5e would be my choice based on pricing and availability.
On this website I'll use the term 'CATx' which I use to describe ANY cable that is CAT5 or better.
Special Note about Gigabit Ethernet
Recently the IEEE standard for Gigabit Ethernet was approved and is now called 1000BASE-T. CAT5 will work with gigabit but there are conditions to that. Some older CAT5 cables were built to an early version of the CAT5 spec and will not work with gigabit. So, only newer CAT5 cables will work. And, basically, you have to do EVERYTHING to spec and strictly 'by the book' for this to work. Most actually recommend that CAT5e be used - the overhead margin that CAT5e has will allow you a better chance of success. In fact most recommend that your older CAT5 wiring installation actually be tested to ensure it will meet all the required specs. This testing expense is well beyond the capacity of most home users. You CAN go out and buy gigabit NIC's and Switches BUT they may or may not work with your CAT5 (and even CAT5e) wiring installation if you have not followed all of the good practice wiring rules. For these reasons I recommend using CAT5e cable for gigabit applications and do everything by the book and don't compromise anything.
But aware too that gigabit actually uses ALL 4 pair of the CATx cables where 100Base-T Fast Ethernet and 10Base-T only used two of the four pairs. See my Links page for more on Gigabit Ethernet. In general most Gigabit Ethernet components will attempt to operate at 1000Mbps and if the cable won't perform well it will switch down to the lower 100Mbps speed.
Telephone wiring is an obvious choice as a wiring type to include. Telephone wiring does not require high performance cable to work. The cable commonly used in the past for telephone was the familiar 4 conductor variety and is commonly referred to as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Standard). But now the minimum recommended wiring for telephone is CAT3. The photo below has CAT5 on the left and POTS on the right. Notice that CAT5 has the twisted pairs where the POTS does not. This gives CAT5 higher immunity from electrical interference.
Now since your already using CAT5 or better for your network cabling it makes a lot of sense to use the same CATx cable for the phones as well. CAT5 is not that much more expensive than POTS. And using CAT cable for the phone means you'll be buying a larger quantity of the CATx cable and can take advantage of discounts for bulk or higher quantities. CATx has the additional advantage of being capable of carrying 4 phone lines over the 2 line capacity of the POTS cable.
One important thing to note here. I get a lot of questions from people asking if it is ok the run telephone lines through the two unused pair of wires in CATx cable used for Ethernet Data. My answer to this is NO!. Others will answer YES but under certain conditions. Actually this MAY work for you until the the phone rings and you use the phone. Ring signals are high voltage (90 volt) AC signals and WILL interfere with 100Mbps high speed ethernet communications. And, gigabit and Power Over Ethernet use all 4 pairs so these applications don't have and unused wires. In general this unorthodox use of Ethernet cables is something I DON'T RECOMMEND. Do this and your on your own.
Video wiring is another obvious choice as a wiring type to include. With the right choice of cabling you can use you video wiring to carry signals from local broadcast reception antennas, CATV (Cable TV), DSS (Digital Satellite Services) and baseband video (such as from a video camera). And with the high degree of configurability you can get with a structured wiring system you can easily accommodate all of these signals. And if do like I did and run two video lines to every outlet plate you can even do things such as allow a digital CATV converter box located in your bedroom to also feed a spare TV in another room. Or to use a DVD player in the living room to feed a TV in the basement. Very cool and this can save you the expense of buying multiple devices.
The most widely recommended type of video cable for structured wiring in RG6/U quad shielded coax. Standard RG6/U coax has dual shields and to get quad shields you have to use 'RG6/U quad shielded coax'. This cabling is relatively inexpensive and widely available. A more common type of cabling you are likely to be familiar with is RG59. This RG59 is slightly thinned and more flexible and has been commonly used for antenna and CATV applications. But with the both higher and lower frequencies you'll encounter with DSS, digital CATV and broadband cable modems, RG59 is not the best choice any more because the signal losses are higher than RG6/U and RG6/U qual shield. RG6/U has less signal loss at both higher and lower frequencies especially with longer runs of cabling. And the quad shielding gives higher immunity from electrical interference. See the section on Coax Stripping for more on this.
For cabling that you'll install in the walls and attics and such I would use exclusively RG6/U quad shielded coax. For short cable runs outside the walls, say from the wall outlet to the TV or the VCR, the use of the thinner more flexible RG59 is OK. Common RG59 is a dual shield coax and, as far as I know, is not available in quad shielded form. Just limit the use of RG59 to short cable runs (say 20' or so).
My idea of whole house audio is one pair of very sweet sounding Definitive Technologies Pro Tower 400 speakers with 245 watts per channel to persuade them. Crank up the volume on these babies and you'll have a whole house full of excellent sounding audio. I obviously chose to leave out audio from my structured wiring plan. I'll avoid this subject for the time being because I haven't researched it fully.
I don't have any plans to support this topic.
Alarm (including surveillance video)
I don't have any plans to support this topic.
This website being titled
'Structured Wiring - How To' is all about wiring. But, wireless can be
combined with wired components to enhance your Structured Wiring
System. I have in fact added an 802.11b wireless network to my
own Structured Wiring System. Additionally I have added some sections to this
website on Wireless Networking. You can access these sections from links on the
left side of all my web pages.
VOIP Voice Over Internet Protocol
A well done Structured Wiring system will
accommodate VOIP VERY WELL and with little modification. In fact I have added
Vontage VOIP to my system and have a page
that describes how you can do that too.