The type of cable chosen for a network is directly related to the network’s topology, protocol, and size. By understanding the characteristics of the various types of cable; how they relate and/or complement each other, it becomes possible for you to design and successfully implement; first-time round, all manner of communications and general networking production environments.
Planning and Preparation
As always; plan your work in advance. In this way you can ensure that; when it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty of actually running cable, you will have the correct tools (crimper, diagonal cutters, screwdrivers, cable tester etc.) as well as plenty of cable, connectors, cable ties and other accessories at hand to complete the job in one complete contiguous sequence of tasks.
Regulatory Requirements – Do not forget to verify regulatory requirements and other provisos such as insurance requirements. Most government and statutory authorities generally require that any cabling that is to be installed into walls or conduit or other fixed structures must be installed by certified and registered personal. So as always check to confirm the specifics of your situation with your local authorities.
Site Survey – Conduct a thorough site survey; complete with comprehensive assets and resources register(s) and requirements assessment.
Existing Infrastructure – Always inspect your existing infrastructure to make sure that those segments that are already in existence will be compatible with those which you plan to install. Do the same for all other aspects of the network including network infrastructure devices and client devices such as NICs and PCs.
Compatibility – When installing higher performance cabling such as CAT 6 cable; which is capable of transmission rates in excess of 1 Gigabit/sec it is quite possible that you will attain no measurable performance improvements if existing components (e.g. 10 Megabit/sec NICs) are incapable of achieving these higher transmission rates. The network will always function at the maximum speeds that the slowest party to a conversation is capable of maintaining. Thus it may be necessary to upgrade other network infrastructure and devices concurrently with the new transmission media.
Always refer to any existing documentation (e.g. blueprints) as it should help you identify much information about the current state of your network. Refer to manufacturer documentation for any idiosyncrasies that may need to be taken into consideration. If no documentation exists then you will just have to create it.
Updates – You should also regularly update the documentation as work progresses so that the documentation will reflect the current network state as this will make any necessary troubleshooting far easier and quicker to find appropriate solutions.
Detailed Diagrams – Always ensure that you include both physical diagrams and logical diagrams of the network and its entire related infrastructure. Microsoft™ Visio®, LanFlow® and SmartDraw® are all great for doing this.
Detailed Work Breakdown (WBS) – Produce breakdown documentation for large jobs as multiple trades’ people may be working concurrently on the same job. Check with those provisioning other services and utilities to confirm their requirements. Pay special attention to other sources of Electromagnetic Radiation (other types of electrical cabling etc.).
Checklists – Produce appropriate checklists as this makes your skilled workers’ job far more streamlined and there will be less chance of error, accident or other mishaps.
Implementation Plan – Don’t forget to prepare a detailed implementation plan detailing the sequence in which all required tasks will be performed; as well as who will be performing them well in advance to the commencement of actually rolling out cable.
Never run unprotected UTP cable outside of a building as it presents a very real danger in the form of a lightning hazard. UTP is also very prone to environmental degradation resulting from water damage. Signal integrity is another area of concern particularly in locations exhibiting higher than normal levels of EMI and Radio Frequency Interference (RFI).
Reducing the impact of environmental Electromagnetic Interference and noise will result in increased signal quality at the receiving end. This is important since reducing the number of corrupt frames being placed onto your transmission media will dramatically reduce the number of retransmissions necessary to get the message through. This in turn translates to greater effective data throughput which means your network is faster.
The rule of thumb here is to install your cable runs making sure that they are no less than 3 feet away from other sources of EMI such as: fluorescent lights, mobile phones, PDAs, computer peripherals (printers, copiers etc.), shop equipment, fans, TVs and other electrical and electronic equipment (computers, microwave sources such as microwave ovens, telephones etc.),
Always bear in mind that EMI is a two-way effect. Your equipment may suffer detrimental effects from surrounding sources of EMI while other electrical and electronic equipment can suffer detrimental effects from your equipment. Do not run your cable in close proximity to life support systems as equipment failure or errors can have very sensitive consequences indeed.
Always conceal of firmly affix your transmission media.
For cable runs where there is no alternative but to run cable across open spaces such as large rooms and areas where human traffic is high (publically accessible regions) it is important that you prevent accidental damage to your transmission media while at the same time protecting humans from injury caused by the transmission medium. Always cover the cable with cable protectors and use duct tape to firmly affix it to the floor thereby limiting the opportunity for humans to trip over the cable.
For reasons of aesthetic appeal you might consider placing a rug over the cable. However; it is always best to avoid open floor cable runs at all times even if it means using more cable by running the cable along a wall or in a suspended ceiling. Concealing your cable also adds to your network’s overall physical security status and proficiency.
Occupational Health and Safety
Site preparation is an often overlooked element when it comes to the task of rolling-out network infrastructure such as cabling. You will need a work area that is well lit and free from clutter. It is also advisable to make sure that your work area is of restricted access during the period in which the work is being conducted.
Children are not welcome by-standers. You will be using tools for cutting cable. Remember sharp objects and implements always present the risk for personal and material injury that you or your organization is legally responsible for.
Slack – Always use a bit more cable than the exact distance to be spanned. Leave some slack as this will make installation and future troubleshooting considerably easier. Never stretch Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) cables as tension in excess of 10 Kilograms will invariably result in untwisting the pairs within the cable sheath. A direct result of untwisting the pairs within the cable sheath is that interference due to cross-talk will invariably increase; even to the point of rendering the entire cable as being unusable.
Measure and Cut – The standard “measure twice; cut once” rule is as crucial as ever.
Fixing – Apart from the use of duct tape to cover cross-floor cable runs, always use cable ties and not tape to keep cables in the same location together. Never use a stapler to secure transmission media including UTP, STP, solid core cable, coaxial cable and fiber optic cable etc. Telephone wire hangers such as RG-6 coaxial wire hangers are cheap and do a superior job anyway.
Label – Always clearly label cable segments at both ends as you run it. This will make connection to end devices and troubleshooting considerably more pleasant then otherwise would be the case.
Testing – As always it is most important that you test every segment (the complete, unbroken length of cable running between two distinct points/nodes) of a network as you install it. Even new cable may have unseen flaws.