We’re all somewhat familiar with the concept of a network. We use social networks to connect us with friends, family and coworkers. We use computer networks to tie all our devices together to effortlessly transfer the data we need to make our businesses run. These networks provide incredible value in our lives, but many of us don’t understand how any of them work. 

Within any network, connections are important. With computer networks, those connections are built on network cabling. That means our connections are only as strong as the materials used and the way in which they were connected. Whether you’re in the market for an upgraded local area network or just came for the network cable definition, we’ll do our best to cover the network cabling basics.

Why is network cabling important?

Network cabling provides the backbone of your network. It may be helpful to think of network cabling in the context of city roads and highways. If they are assembled in a jumbled mess, the result is a lot of sitting and waiting in jammed up connections. The infrastructure was not designed properly, and cannot deliver an acceptable traffic flow to keep things moving smoothly.

Like city infrastructure, data can only flow through any given cable at its maximum capacity. When higher speed cables meet lower speed cables, we run into a bottleneck. It’s similar to the way traffic backs up at freeway offramps onto city streets. The city streets aren’t equipped to handle as much traffic, so everything slows down where they meet.

Designing your local area network (LAN) to meet both your needs and ANSI cabling standards is the best way to avoid insufficient bandwidth that can create slowdowns. Part of this comes down to the type of network cabling you choose. While your installer can point you in the right direction, it’s helpful to know a little bit before you begin.

Types of Network Cabling

A network can be built on a number of different types of technology, and each offers advantages and disadvantages that are unique to that type. When designing your network, you will run into a few main types of network cabling. Here’s a brief rundown of the similarities and differences among them.

Twisted Pair Cable

The most common type of cable in network cabling is the twisted pair cable. It’s economical and easy to install, and is available in two variations to meet your needs. 

In a twisted pair cable configuration, four pairs of wires are run through a protective jacket. Each pair is twisted together to help eliminate interference. The two varieties of twisted pair cables used in networking are shielded and unshielded.

Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) Cable

UTP cables represent the more basic form of this category. Each pair of wires is twisted together and all eight are wrapped in the protective jacket. Pairs that are twisted tightly are able to handle higher transmission rates, but this also increases the cost. Due to their lower price point, unshielded twisted pair cable is more commonly used for many applications where interference doesn’t present a large issue.

Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) Cable

If there is a relatively high likelihood of electromagnetic interference, we utilize shielded wires to prevent issues. STP cable is constructed in the same way as UTP cable, but may have shields covering each pair individually, covering all pairs at once via a shield on the inside of the jacket, or a combination of both.

Shielded twisted pair cable does a much better job of blocking interference than the unshielded variety, but the increased price makes this network cabling solution unnecessary in environments with minimal interference.

Coaxial Cable

Most people are somewhat familiar with coaxial cable. This is the type of cable that we’ve been plugging into our TVs and internet modems for decades. It features a copper core with an insulating material and metal sheath for protection. The whole package is wrapped in a protective outer layer. This construction allows coaxial cable to offer good protection against electromagnetic interference, but it can be difficult to install if your home or office haven’t already been run with it. This is something you need to account for in your budget if running new cables.

Coaxial cables have been the standard for many years, but may exhibit limited usefulness in very large commercial buildings due to an inability to transmit signals over long distances without assistance. As our needs have evolved, fiber optic cables have become the new gold standard in data transmission.

Fiber Optic Cable

Most telecom companies are migrating their infrastructure to fiber optic cables, and for good reason. They utilize beams of light instead of electrical signals, which allows for incredible transfer speeds over long distances without data loss, and means they aren’t prone to electromagnetic interference the way other cables are. They also allow for equal upload and download speeds, which is a game changer for anyone who relies on transfer speeds for work or play. 

Fiber optic cables accomplish all this through their construction. A fiber optic cable consists of a few primary parts. 

The inner core, which is made of plastic or glass, allows light pulses to travel down the length of the cable and transmit data from one end to the other. The next layer is cladding, which is a reflective coating on the core. This keeps the light signals progressing down the core in the same way bowling bumpers keep a ball in its lane until it reaches the end. The core and cladding combine to create what we refer to as the fiber. 

Since the fiber is relatively sensitive to breakage, it is wrapped in a buffer and outer jacket to protect it against outside forces. These materials allow technicians to handle the material without breaking it and keeps it safe from environmental elements. When planning your network with the future in mind, this is a material that will stay relevant for a long time.

Low Voltage Cable

This type of network cabling differs from the others on this list, mostly due to its primary usage. Low voltage cables are mainly used to transmit low voltage signals, such as data, voice, and audio and video signals. They are designed to max out at 50 volts, rather than conventional AC electrical cabling, which is designed to carry 110/220 volts. This makes it a perfect solution for data communication applications like AV systems, security systems, and lighting control systems.

There are a number of factors that make low voltage wiring ideal for these types of applications. First, low voltage cables are unlikely to cause interference with electronic equipment, making it perfectly suited for use in systems that rely on accurate signals without interference. Another benefit is that they are smaller and more flexible than standard electrical cables. This makes installation and routing much easier. To top it off, they also require little power to operate. This may save you a considerable amount of money in the long run. 

When your primary goal is to communicate signals from one component to another, this is likely the best type of network cabling for most systems. 

network wiring

Wireless Networks

Since wireless networks have become ubiquitous in modern homes and offices, it’s worth covering them. As we’ve gotten more and more used to connecting wirelessly, it’s become the natural way to connect in many minds.

Wireless connections are handy for remote work and personal devices, but they don’t provide the same kind of performance and security that their wired counterparts do. Even if you prefer to use your mobile devices via your wireless network, there are some great reasons to connect your computer via a hard wired connection, especially if you work from home. 

Spoiler alert: they are the same reasons we hard wire connections in the office.

Benefits of Network Cabling

If you’re deciding whether you want to go with a hard wired network or a wireless one, there are some great reasons why physically cabling network components can better serve your business needs.

Improved Network Performance and Reliability

The first thing you may notice when using a wired network instead of a wireless one is improved network performance. Sending data over physical network cabling is always much faster than sending it wirelessly. Your uploads and downloads will complete more quickly, you won’t have to worry about dead spots in the building, and your video conferencing will be crisp and clear and jitter-free. 

Another side of this coin is the improved network reliability you’ll experience with wired connections. Wired connections are less prone to issues than wireless connections, meaning less down time and fewer interruptions.

Improved Productivity

This benefit comes out of the previous one. An increase in performance and reliability often leads businesses to experience an increase in productivity as well. Without the delays and static that often results from wireless connections, employees are able to complete their daily tasks much more effectively and efficiently. 

This improved productivity can lead to more profits, which is the one benefit that’s sure to make every business owner happy. But this isn’t the only way physical network cabling can improve the bottom line. 

Improved Bottom Line

If you work in a large building, a single wireless router won’t be enough to connect everyone to your network. Weak signals will require you to spend more to connect the entire team via extenders and mesh systems. 

Even if you have a physical network setup, poor planning can cause some of the same headaches. Proper network cabling design will ensure each employee has the bandwidth they need to get the job done.

Improved Security

Another benefit of physical network cabling is the security it provides. Connecting via wires offers increased security over wireless connections, which can be accessed by anyone within range. A physical network is a great way to cut hackers and other bad actors out of the equation.

Planning your Network

Before beginning any cabling installation, it’s important that we have a plan in place. This is going to form a foundation on which much of your work is conducted, so it’s got to be done right. Planning your network setup ahead of time will ensure you don’t find yourself spending big money down the road to improve upon what you’ve got. Here are some simple steps to help you get what you want out of your network.

Plan for the future

If you want to design a network that will serve your needs for the foreseeable future, you’ve got to design your network cable infrastructure with future needs in mind. Running sufficient network wiring to handle your future needs now will save you a lot of time, money, and frustration down the line. It’s much easier to build structured cabling systems now than to revisit in response to issues years down the road.

Use the right materials for the job

Like many things in life, the outcome of any endeavor is only as good as the materials that went into it. Choosing the right materials for your network installation will ensure you get the results you’re after at a price that won’t break the bank. A proper plan will help you decide on the right materials, but a reputable installer can provide even more insight.

Use a reputable installer

The company you choose to provide your network cabling services is as important as the materials you use. A large percentage of networking problems are due to improper installation or poor network cabling techniques. Hiring a reputable company for your IT network setup will save you money and frustration down the road. 

We’ve got the industry knowledge and installation experience to make every project a success. Whether you’re ready to put a plan into action or simply have some questions before you get started, we’d love to help you design network cabling solutions that will serve your needs now and in the future.