August 15, 2019

Low Voltage Terms for Dummies

[6 Minute Read] 

There are a lot of low voltage terms, abbreviations, and slang that can be quite intimidating to newcomers and outsiders. If you need a basic understanding of the low voltage industry -because of a project, contract, or job - this low voltage terms list will help you get started. We go from Analog to WAN and cover everything in between.

Before we start though we should cover, what is low voltage?

Low Voltage

Low voltage is classified as 50V (volts) or less. Low voltage will not cause a shock from contact. Commercial systems include security systems, sound and communication systems, LED lighting, and more. 

All of the terminology listed below will relate to the field of low voltage. The list could go on for days if you’re into geek-speak, but we tried to cover only the essentials. Brush up on your low voltage terms and you’ll be able to have an informative and professional discussion about low voltage projects and systems.


Format that uses continuous physical parameters to transmit information. (Opposite: Digital)


The information capacity of a cable, usually measured in GHz. 


Method of communication where the signal is transmitted by being impressed on a higher frequency carrier. Also, the ability of a communications system to carry several signals simultaneously. 


(Cable TV) Uses coaxial or twisted pair cable, and recently optical fiber,  to transmit signals from a service providers feed to multiple locations in a building. 


Ethernet cable that carries up to 155 Mbits over short distances. Has been superseded by Cat5E in most industries.


Ethernet cable standard that carries up to one gigabit per second. 


Next-generation Cat5E cable that supports gigabit network speeds but performs to a higher standard and minimizes interference and noise.


Newest North American recognized cable standard. Designed to support 10 gigabits per second. 

Example Cat6 Plenum cable
Cat 6 Low Voltage Cable
Low Voltage Term Category Cable


(Closed Circuit Television) Use of video cameras to transmit a signal to a single place


(Communications Multipurpose Cable, Plenum) Cable jacket fire-resistance rating, indicated that it’s suitable for a plenum space. Must pass a standardized flammability test and be certified by an accredited laboratory like UL. 


(Communications Multipurpose Cable, Riser) Cable jacket fire-resistance rating, indicated that it’s suitable for a riser space. Must pass a standardized flammability test and be certified by an accredited laboratory like UL. 

Coaxial Cable

Electrical cable used for high-frequency transmissions and broadband. 


A tube or pipe that cables are pulled through or housed.


(Copper Clad Aluminum) Cables where the wire is made of aluminum and coated in copper. It is cheaper but performs poorly. Instead, look for 100% annealed pure copper wire. 

There are several things you need to consider and look for when purchasing cable to ensure you get a quality product. Click here to read more.

CCA vs Copper Cable Terms


(Distributed Antenna System) A way to deal with poor network coverage inside a building by installing small antennas throughout the area. 


Data format that uses a discrete, countable, and a finite number of levels to transmit information. (Opposite: Analog)


Refers to the various computer networking technologies for a local area network.


(Electromagnetic Interference) Interference that causes degradation or failure. 

Fiber Optic Cable

Very thin plastic or glass fiber wire made from pure optical glass, designed to use light to carry digital signals. It does not emit or receive EMI. 


(Foiled Twisted Pair) Ethernet cable constructed with a single aluminum shield that surrounds all four pairs of wire inside the cable, helps prevent interference. 


(Intermediate Distribution Frame) A free-standing or wall-mounted rack that interconnects cable, MDFs, and workstations.


(International Electrotechnical Commission) International, non-governmental organization that sets standards for electrical products. 

Insulated Wire

Covering a conductor with a non-conducting material, such as covering metal in plastic. 


External material covering a cable. Features information about flammability rating, temperature rating, manufacturer, etc.  

Ethernet Cable Diagram Definition


(Local Aera Network) Limited data communications network for a small area like a home, office, or building. 


(Light Emitting Diode) Semiconductor diode that emits light when forward current is applied. Energy-efficient bulbs that can be powered over ethernet.


(Main Distribution Frame) Connects private or public lines coming into the building with the internal network. Interconnects with IDFs. 


A device that carries out modulation and demodulation. The modem takes in digital information (0’s and 1’s)  and sends it over a transmission medium. 


(Multi-Mode Fiber) Allows multiple modes of light to propagate, allowing more data to pass through at a given time. This means the quality of the signal is reduced over long distances and is better suited to short-distance applications. 

Network Cabling

Broad term referring to ethernet cabling structures for a building.


Cable that is run in non-plenum areas and rates as Riser

Patch Panel

Distribution area to rearrange cable connections and circuits


Cable that is used in the plenum area of a building (where air circulates - air ducts, raised floors, etc.) without the need for conduit. The cable has a slow-burning, fire-resistant casing, and must not emit toxic smoke when exposed to fire and not reignite after self-extinguishing.  


Standard connector used for ethernet cables. 


Cable that is used in non-plenum areas of a building (i.e., cable risers between floors, elevator shafts, etc.). The cable must still self-extinguish during a vertical burn test to prevent flames from traveling up the cable. 


In a cable, it is a metallic layer placed around a conductor or group of conductors to prevent interference or signal leakage.


Permanent joining of fiber optic cables using heat to fuse or melt the ends.


(Shielded Twisted Pair) Ethernet cable shielding where each individual pair of wires have their own aluminum shield.

Structured Cabling

Refers to the cabling infrastructure in a building. The background for all of the low-voltage technology.

A lot goes into properly planning a structured cabling infrastructure, in fact the end-users success depends on a high-quality design... [Read More]

Temperature Rating

Maximum/minimum temperature at which a cable will maintain its integrity without failing.


(Underwriters Laboratories) An independent, non-profit product safety and certification organization. Products that do not follow the UL standards could pose serious fire risks and safety concerns. 


(Unshielded Twisted Pair) Ethernet cables with no shield surrounding the twisted pair wires inside of the cable. 


(Wide Area Network) A network that covers a broad geographical area.

Now that you're familiar with low voltage terminology, you need to get acquainted with the typical pricing structure. Download the Structured Cabling Purchasing Guidebook to learn about factors that influence cost, room types, and common cost factors for low voltage tech projects.

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Structured Cabling

Purchasing Guidebook

See any low voltage terms we’re missing? Comment below and let us know!

About the author 

Doug Gies

Doug Gies is the VP of Operations at Automated Systems Design, Inc. He has over 25 years of experience in the rapid deployment of technology to Fortune 500 retail customers. At ASD®, Doug directs and guides operational activities with the objective of maximizing growth and profitability as well as providing day-to-day support to the team.

  • It really interests me to read such articles, thanks for sharing. Blogs like yours really help me learn more day by day.

  • CATV – Cable TV Service, may also support internet service. A CATV system in a building uses coax or twisted pair cable to distribute a Service Providers feed to multiple locations in the building.

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