Installing ethernet cables is a relatively simple process, on the surface. You need some equipment, maybe some testing gear, and more OTS LAN cable than you actually need. Still, there are times when things go awry and you find that the installation did not go as smoothly as you would have liked. If every individual component is as good as it can get, the installation itself is what went wrong.
The fact is that installations can go wrong. While it looks like it should be a simple task to find a route and lay the cables down, things can go wrong even with the perfect parts. As it turns out, perfect parts don’t really help if you have an imperfect process.
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The Right Cables
First, you should choose the right cables. PROFINET, for instance, is an industrial cable that uses foil and braid shielding. They’re expensive and designed for factory floors, so you probably don’t want these for a home or office network installation.
In most cases, you probably want CAT-6, due to their backward compatibility with previous standards. They can be run for greater lengths than older cables without the need for additional equipment to keep the signal stable. At the same time, they support longer-lasting specifications and speeds. While you might also consider Cat-7 cables for business purposes, at that stage fibre optics becomes a more attractive option.
Plan ahead by doing two things. First, you want to visit the location where the installation will happen. It is important that you build an angle of attack first, getting an idea of where the cables will run and what environments to expect. Be sure to measure everything!
The second part of the plan is to have more cable than you need. This will let you cover for any errors that occur, either due to incorrect measurement or problems during the installation itself. You don’t need to have an additional yard of cable, but just a little extra can go a long way in the event of an emergency.
Avoid Unsafe Areas and Power Cables
Don’t run the cable in areas where it won’t be safe, and don’t cross the power cable unless it’s at a 90º angle. The angle avoids interference, which is going to be a big help in keeping your network stable. Both of these generate their own electromagnetic fields, and you don’t want one clashing with the other because it disrupts the signal transmission of the ethernet cable.
As for locations, there are a few guidelines. Don’t run the cable over any electrical conduits. Avoid water pipes, or any other pipes, due to safety concerns and the possibility of failing to pass an inspection. Don’t touch any ceiling tiles or under the floor. The only exception to that last one would be if the building has a raised floor designed specifically for running cables under it.
Organize Your Cables Visually
Making your cables visually distinct is important, especially for bigger installation jobs. Use different colours for different purposes, such as blue for the central connection and yellow for connecting switches to devices. You should also label them, so you know their purpose, how they’re terminated, and how you plan to use them.
Don’t Wind Them Too Tight
Do you see the warning above about power cables? The same thing applies to other ethernet cables. Don’t bundle them together too tightly, because that will just cause interference. You also risk damaging the lifespan of the cables in this manner.
At the same time, you don’t want to “over-cable” the server racks you install. This causes more heat, and that’s a problem. Data centres need to be kept cool, and higher temperatures don’t normally do the cables any favours either.
Terminations are part of the installation process. What shouldn’t be part of it are exposed wires. Never leave them exposed, because that degrades the signal and invites damage over time. Exposed wires also risk breaking inside the plug, rendering the cable useless.
If you want to save time, consider getting your hands on “pre-connectorized” cables. These are easier for plug-and-play operations and require no additional assembly during installation. However, the caveat is that there’s also a little less leeway to customize specific details once you get on the ground. You probably won’t see this as an issue most of the time, though.
One more thing to remember is that networking technologies are always pushing forward, so the installation that’s state of the art now might not be in the future. On the other hand, you don’t want to overpay by purchasing cables with specifications that won’t be put to their best use. The balance between preparing for the future and something cost-effective for the installation.
Installing ethernet cables is easy, in a physical sense. It just requires a bit of planning and preparation, but that’s true of anything. With the right cables, an awareness of how things can go wrong, and some preparation, you can make the ethernet setup smooth and hassle-free.