Whether building new or renovating an existing structure, those who develop construction plans need to factor in much more than building materials. Construction managers and architects also need to include an organization’s technology needs in their planning process, including low-voltage structured cabling.
Technology and the necessary cabling to keep it performing optimally can’t be an afterthought when designing structures or planning renovations. Here, we’ll cover what construction teams and facility managers need to consider when planning a project, and how to properly incorporate structured cabling into their building designs.
What is Structured Cabling?
Structured cabling is the pathway of cabling infrastructure that runs through a building’s walls, ceilings, floors, and access panels. It is used for numerous types of low-voltage technologies, including:
- Internet and WiFi services
- Computer networks
- Security systems
- Digital signage
- Point of sale (POS) systems
- Audiovisual equipment (A/V)
- IoT devices
- And much more
Types of Structured Cabling
Collecting and leveraging data is how many organizations gain a competitive advantage. But the necessary bandwidth to transfer all that data has grown exponentially in recent years and will continue to climb. The number of data-dependent IoT devices alone is expected to double to more than 29 billion by the year 2030.
At one time, CAT5 and CAT5e copper cabling was thought to transfer data at lightning speed. With today’s requirements, however, it’s now considered antiquated.
CAT6 and CAT6e copper cables are the standard for new construction and operate at frequencies up to 250 MHz, whereas CAT5e is limited to 100 Mhz. In other words, CAT6 cables can process 2.5 times more data than CAT5e at the same time. CAT6 or CAT6e cabling does have some limitations, with a maximum range of 100 meters, but these limitations can be overcome with a properly designed infrastructure.
Fiber optic cables are also desirable for their seemingly unlimited bandwidth. They are used for telecommunications, including internet, video, and phone systems. A drawback of fiber optic cables is their upfront costs and fragile construction. Many organizations include fiber optic cables in their infrastructure, however, especially those that need to minimize electromagnetic interference (EMI).
RELATED ARTICLE: Copper vs. Fiber Optic Cabling
Another consideration is whether to use plenum or PVC cabling, also referred to as riser cabling. By default, ASD recommends using plenum cables. While more expensive, plenum is safer and more fire-resistant, and able to run inside air returns and HVAC systems. Riser cables, however, can emit toxic chemicals when exposed to fire or extreme heat. Many building inspectors will require plenum cabling, so it’s best to include it in the original plan and budget.
Structured Cabling Planning & Installation Tips
As technologies continue to advance, business owners are increasingly concerned about guarding against obsolescence. For example, will CAT7 or another type of cabling technology eventually replace CAT6?
Though we don’t know when, it’s likely. The best way to ensure that cabling can be upgraded in the future is to provide the right infrastructure and accessibility from the start. Much like a building requires hallways and access points for easy navigation of its occupants, pathways also need to be designed for pulling and installing updated cables in the future.
Before the plan is even drawn up, stakeholders must collaborate and document their needs with the future in mind, and ensure the cabling requirements are outlined. Getting the architect, designer, IT personnel, facility team, and structured cabling provider on the same page helps ensure that critical configurations and access points don’t get missed.
An example includes cables that need to run in a ceiling or under floors. If the drawings don’t include those data drops, you might have to open up a wall to add conduit or access points. With proper heat mapping and network planning, project owners can ensure their technology infrastructure meets their needs without requiring costly change orders.
The distance between IT closets is another consideration, especially for large, multi-level facilities. Because standard cable runs 100 meters, you can’t simply have a single main distribution frame (MDF) in the middle of the facility and expect to run 500 feet of cable. A large facility with several floors or an expansive footprint might require multiple intermediary distribution frames (IDFs) with backbone cabling that branches out horizontally across each floor to serve its workforce.
Designing a flexible structured cabling system that serves your technology needs today and into the future helps ensure optimal performance and can help minimize construction change orders. Learn more about structured cabling and the factors that contribute to overall costs in our helpful Structured Cabling Purchasing Guidebook. Then, reach out to our nationwide team to talk through your needs.
The low voltage structured cabling experts at ASD can help assess your organization's technology requirements through the use of heat maps and predictive surveys. Our team can work with your designers and architects to identify locations on drawings or provide recommendations on other technology needs and placements, such as security systems, access controls, audiovisuals, and more. We’ll also coordinate with other trades to ensure seamless integration.
Contact our team today to talk through how our tailored services can assist in your next renovation or construction project.