cables 870

With production facilities moving to 4K footage the requirements of networks speeds and reliability has greatly increased. Luckily, the advancements in network technologies have allowed them to become faster over time. Here we will be focusing on the local network inside your premises, as out there on the Internet is a whole different set of rules. A basic wired network is generally built on a couple of components but today we will look at the physical cables and connectors. This blog is just a guide to help you start thinking about the requirement that will suite your needs.

There are generally two types of network cables used in a local network and they are Copper and Fibre. They both have their advantages and disadvantages but usually it’s the requirements that set them apart.

Copper Cabled Networks

You may have heard the term Cat5 or Cat6 been thrown around in network conversations. These are actually advancements and improvements in specifications used in the copper based networking on how the cable is made. If you think that a copper network is all you require then I would generally install the latest category of network cable in for future proofing your network and receive the best performance. Sure, you can run your network with a lower category of Ethernet cable but you may not get the desired network speeds for your workflow over the required distance. (The distance of the cable being the length between the computers and switch including patch cables.)

Outlined is a simple table of the most commonly used categories for copper based Ethernet for the maximum speed over the maximum distance in the best-case scenario.

  Frequency 1000Mb /1Gb 10Gb
Cat 5 100Mhz N/A N/A
Cat 5e 100Mhz 100 Meters N/A
Cat 6 250Mhz 100 Meters 55 Meters
Cat 6A 500Mhz 100 Meters 100 Meters
Cat 7 600Mhz 100 Meters 100 Meters

The introduction of Cat6 Ethernet cable brought with it support for 10Gb/s network speeds. Although, you can run 10gb over Cat5E but it is not officially supported. Similarly, the Cat5e specification introduced support for 1Gb/s network speeds. Cat5 will run 1Gb but only officially supported for 100Mb/s.

Now you might be looking at the table above and thinking, why would I put Cat 7 if I can get the same distance and speed over Cat 6A? It all comes down to your environment and surrounding. The difference in categories brings more stringent specification that are in place to reduce the amount of crosstalk between the internal wires of the cable and outside influences’. For example, Electromagnetic Interference. Above you can see that Cat5 can run 1Gb speeds over 100 meters but that is best-case scenario. If you have a significant amount of outside noise (I don’t mean sound) then that speed and distance will decrease. This is why the release of the newer categories, to eliminate the effects of outside interference on the cables but still provide maximum speed and distance.

Now I know I said I would generally install the latest and greatest technology but Cat 6A and 7 are still quite expensive. I would generally stick with Cat6 (and above) as it still provides a reliable infrastructure for your network without the hefty price tag. Also, given that Cat 5E was introduced in 2001, it was quickly superseded by Cat6 in 2002. If money is no object and your looking to future proof your facility, go up a category or two.

Your facility may already have network cable running through the walls with network points all around the office leading back to a patch panel. If you decide to reuse these cables then you are unfortunately limited to what has already been installed. Using higher category patch cables between the network point on the wall and the computer will work as they are backwards compatible but will be limited to the performance of the cable between the network point and patch panel. “Your only as strong as your weakest link” as the saying goes. I would find out what has been preinstalled and stick with the same category patch cables. This will likely benefit your wallet also.

Fibre Cables Networks

You might guess that the main difference between copper and fibre cable is how they transmit information. One uses an electrical transmissions and the other uses light. Fibre cable is made up of two different types, Single-Mode and Multi-Mode, and the main difference between these is distance.

Single-mode fibre is designed for distances’ up to 100km dependent on the required speed. Multi-mode has a limit of 2 km that is not only dependent on required speed, but also the category. Yes, back to categories, but this time more defined according to lengths. Fibre cables don’t have the same issues as copper so they are not influenced by their surroundings giving you a more accurate guide to work with in the planning stages of your network implementation.

The simple table below will give you an idea of the type of cable you need for your speed, distances and future proofing requirements.

  Multi-Mode Single-Mode
  OM1 OM2 OM3 OM4 OS1
Frequency 200Mhz 500Mhz 1500Mhz 3500Mhz  
100Mb 2 km 2 km 2 km 2 km 100 km
1Gb 275 meters 550 meters 800 meters 1.1 km 100 km
10Gb 33 meters 82 meters 300 meters 550 meters 40 km
40Gb N/A N/A 100 meters 150 meters 40 km

(Just like copper, the OM4 category is an improvement the category before. I wouldn’t consider anything less than OM3 as the standard as of writing this.)

You may be thinking, why don’t I run fibre cable everywhere? More distance, more speed, more reliable. I have to add one more thing in there, More Expensive. Running fibre cable is not cheap.

Ok, now that you have made a decision on what cables to fit out your facility with, what do you need to connect them all together?

Picture 1 If you have bought your copper network cables then it would usually already be pre-made with a connector on the end. The connector, that is commonly, but mistakenly, called RJ45 is actually 8 Position 8 Contact (8P8C). But because I’ve grown up using RJ45, lets stick with calling it that.

The RJ45 connector is the most common connection used for terminating the cable connecting it to a switch or a computer. This standard also makes it easier for backwards-compatible higher-grade category cables to connect to equipment that can only support a lower speed. Meaning I could use a Cat6A cable in a switch that only supports 1Gb speeds but as I stated earlier, there is no real benefit and you could be saving money by using a lower grade cable like Cat5E.

If you’re game to attempt to make your own cables, which you can do, each connector and socket are specific to the category of cable. Just keep this in mind when purchasing the required equipment. All the products may look the same but they support different categories.

Picture2 Fibre cables are a bit trickier as the connectors on the end of the cable come in a more of a variety but the 2 your more likely to see are the:

SC (Square or Standard or Subscriber) connector

The LC connection type is more common across multi-mode cables but it’s not unusual to see them for single-mode. The LC connector is a much smaller form factor than the SC and giving the same performance which is probably why it is more adopted.

Picture 3 With the right equipment, you can make your own fibre cables. Unless you already own the equipment or plan to make them for a source of income, I would purchase pre-made. The equipment itself is also quite expensive.

Now, if you try and put that fibre cable into a fibre port on a computer or switch you will notice that it doesn’t fit. More equipment is required to change that light signal into something that the switch and computer and interpret. These take the form of transceiver modules. Transceivers throw another spanner in the works for fibre networks, as there are a range of modules for different speeds, ranges (distances), types, and brands that each of them can support.

Picture4 Yes I said brands, unlike the actual cables where you can plug them in and away you go, the transceivers, more often than not, like to partners up with a specific brand of switch or network card eg. Cisco, HP, Dell and Netgear. In saying this, the specific brands make their own modules. Just remember when you buy the switch or network card, ask them about the module also for that specific model of equipment. Or they may already be supplied with the equipment.

The most common transceiver is the SFP+ that gives the required 10Gb connectivity to your 10Gb switch (assuming that your switch has SFP+ ports). Like I mentioned, there are a range of modules. SFP, SFP+, XFP, QSFP, 10Gb, 1Gb, Short Range, Long Range, the list goes on. To be honest, I don’t want to bore you with a description of each one.
Most modules, like the one pictured above, would have an LC connection where you can plug your fibre cable into. The other end would go into the big square hole in the front of your switch.

Picture5 At this point, you probably now have more questions that what you started with. That’s OK, we here at Digistor are only a phone call away.

If you’re new to this and wish to leave it to the experts or still unable to decide on what cable to use, then one of our technical staff at Digistor would be more than happy to help you out with your requirements.