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Structured Wiring

The Structured Wiring Concept


Why Structured Wiring? 

Wire is cheap, opening walls is expensive.  It is better to put in ten times the amount of wire that you will use at any one time than to leave off just one piece.  This way you have the capacity and flexibility for the future needs of your home.


What is Structured Wiring?

In one sentence Structured Wiring can be described as combining ALL of the communications wiring in your home and treating it as one wiring system.  The long answer; Structured wiring is a method of providing the communications infrastructure of your home in a well organized, easy to understand, and thorough way to provide a general solution to your present and future needs.  Rather than run a coax here and a CAT5 there, and another coax somewhere else as you guess at your future needs, the structured approach is to consistently run a full bundle of wire to every significant room.  The full structured bundle consists of two CAT5e cables and two RG6 coax cables (and optionally two multi-mode optical fibers.)  There are other structures, but this is the configuration that has overwhelmingly become the standard.


Why the 2+2 Structure?

The two coax cables can be used in a variety ways. For cable and standard satellite installations, one cable can be used for receiving signals and the other can be used to send the same signal to other TV’s (want to keep an eye on what your children are watching?) In satellite Tivo (or DVR) applications, a second cable is needed for the multi-tuner feature to operate.  The second cable can also be used to carry additional closed circuit camera channels, such as a baby crib, front door, or pool camera.  The two CAT5e cables are for telecommunications and networking.  “But I plan on using a wireless network.”  Great!  You’ll still need to get that wireless signal back to your router and in most homes there are spots where the signal may dip out completely.  At my house, it’s right where my favorite chair is located.  And if you plan on sharing files between computers in your home, a wired network is ten times faster than a wireless one.  A wired network goes hand-in-hand with your wireless plans.

Structured Wiring is very different from the older way of doing things.                 

 

First let's address the older ‘Daisy Chained’ method of wiring, if you can go as far as calling it a method.  Cables would be run from one outlet or jack to the next and then on to the next and so forth.  Splices were often used in the telephone wiring.  CATV splitters would be stuck away deep inside walls or in attics somewhere.  Little attention was paid to good wiring techniques - as long as the wires were touching every thing would be ok.  The signal quality and strength at the end of the chain would be seriously degraded and inconsistent.  If one of the connections were to fail, all of the devices connected further on down the chain would fail as well.  With this method the phone lines follow different paths through the home from the video which are different again from the network.  Each of the wiring types usually has its own separate outlet plate.  The wiring paths and the locations of splices and splitters were rarely documented.  Adding to, troubleshooting or documenting this mess was nearly impossible.


Now there's the Structured method.  One of the main features of this is the Central Wiring Panel with all of the cables from the outlets originating from this central location.  This is commonly called a Home Run or Star configuration.  Typically one outlet plate is used for all of the wiring types - phone, video, network, etc.  The wires are typically run in bundles containing ALL the types of wiring.  No splices are used. 


The Advantages of Structured Wiring.

Configurability - With all of the cables running back to the Central Wiring Panel you can easily change how and what these individual cables are connected to and what they are used for.

Troubleshooting - Each of the cables can be individually isolated and tested.

No splices - Splices are taboo here because they are prone to failure and can pick up noise and interference.

More consistent signal quality - With all cables running back to the Central Wiring Panel they can all be connected to the same source and get the same signal level.  You can easily avoid having some outlet passing through more splices or splitters than others.

Did I mention No splices?


Another feature key to structured wiring is the choice of wiring types.  The use of high quality cabling is stressed here. For video this means a high quality RG6/U cable is typically used instead of the older RG59. The RG6/U has less signal loss especially at the higher frequencies used for satellite and is less susceptible to interference.  For the data network, this means a high quality CAT5e or even fiber optics.  For the phone this means the same type CAT5e cable used for data instead of the older 4 conductor phone cable resulting in less noise and interference pickup and the capacity for 4 phone lines instead of 2.  You may not need all the capabilities these advanced cables provide today, but with home networking and entertainment evolving so quickly you may find them quite useful sooner than you think.

Let's touch briefly on each of the choices.


Data


With multiple PC’s in the home becoming the norm, and the advent of internet gaming on consoles such as PS3 and Xbox, a home network is a must.  A home network also allows the following:

- Internet Connection Sharing - Having multiple PC's sharing a single internet connection.
- File Sharing - The ability to access files located on any PC's hard disk from any other PC in the home.
- Resource Sharing - The ability to use devices such as scanners and printers from any PC.


Telephone


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).  Now, however, the minimum recommended wiring for telephone is CAT3.  Note that CAT5e has twisted pairs where the POTS does not. This gives CAT5e higher immunity from electrical interference.

Since we are already using CAT5e for your network cabling it makes a lot of sense to use the same cable for the phones as well.  CAT5e has the additional advantage of being capable of carrying 4 phone lines over the 2 line capacity of the POTS cable.  


Video


With the right choice of cabling you can use your 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 get with a structured wiring system, you can easily accommodate all of these signals.  And with two video lines run 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 is RG6/U coax.  This cabling is relatively inexpensive and widely available. A more common type of cabling you are likely to be familiar with is RG59.  RG59 is thinner and more flexible than RG6/U and has been commonly used for antenna and CATV applications. But with the wider frequency range used by modern DSS, digital CATV and broadband cable modems, RG59 is not the best choice any more because the signal losses are higher than RG6/U.  RG6/U has less signal loss at both higher and lower frequencies especially with longer runs of cabling. 


After the Installation

 

The whole purpose of installing a structured wiring system is to have the flexibility to accommodate a wide variety of changing needs during the life of the house.  You will undoubtedly be very happy you chose this infrastructure for your home as the years go by.