A lot of the skills that an electrician applies every day are directly applicable to network cable installation. But there are differences, and that’s what I will be covering in this article.
Network Cable is Delicate
Network cabling is lighter gauge. Any kind of rough handling has the potential to damage the cable before you’ve even installed it.
CAT5e or CAT6 cable has 4 pairs of thin copper wires. Damage to any of those 8 wires renders the cable unusable. Do not exceed 20% of the maximum cable strength when installing (or at any other time for that matter).
You need to pay careful attention to the minimum bend radius for the cable type you are using. The cabling may well be okay when it’s finally installed, but if it has been bent too sharply during installation the damage may have already been done.
Minimum bend radius differs with each type of cable, but for most multi-core cables, don’t bend tighter than 10 times the cable diameter.
Bending cable in order to pass it through a confined space is a no no. Better to cable pull, and then cut off the length of cable used to anchor the string.
As always, your cable manufacturer/supplier will be able to tell you exactly what the minimum bend radius is.
Network cable insulation is much more delicate than regular electrical cable and any nicks, cuts, scuffing etc. will affect the quality of the final signal, an important characteristic of the finished installation. If you need to lubricate a trackway check with the cable manufacturer/supplier for the correct lubricant. If the supplier doesn’t know what you are talking about when asked, get another supplier.
Check the fire regulation to ensure that the cable insulation is sufficient for your installation.
Network cables are sensitive to electrical interference, keep them well away from any source of electrical noise, transformers, motors, lighting ballasts, and if at all possible don’t run them next to mains cables.
Pay careful attention to firebreaks and seal gaps with appropriate materials. But, as an electrician, you already know all about fire regs and the like.
Terminate the cables correctly, don’t leave any pairs untwisted and make sure all the crimps are secure. If the cable isn’t terminated correctly it will NOT work properly.
A lot of electricians don’t label things enough. That’s can be okay when installing power cables in a domestic setting. So long as a power outlet works then the householder or building contractor is unlikely to care whether it is labelled or not.
In a networking context, labelling is absolutely vital. Each cable run must be labelled carefully, at both ends. You are likely to have a large number of cables and it’s very easy to get things mixed up. A label printer really helps, they don’t cost much, and if you plan carefully you can pre-print the labels before you go on site.
We sell a lot of cable locators because a cable installer has dumped a bunch of cables on the floor without a label between them, on either end.
The eventual user of the network has to know which cable ties up to which outlet. Configuring even a relatively small network without proper labelling is a nightmare.
Labelling is very important and will be expanded upon in a dedicated article in this series.
Test: if it’s worth building, it’s worth testing
Another major difference between regular electrical work and network cable installation is testing. Many electricians don’t test their installations in any kind of systematic way.
The bigger the job, the more important cable testing is likely to be. In fact, on even medium sized jobs, you will find that strict international standards have to be tested against. And extensive reports produced for every cable you install.
Testing will have a dedicated article all to itself later on in the series.
As you can see, there are a number of differences between regular electrical work and network cable installation. The differences don’t provide huge barriers to overcome, but you should keep them in mind when bidding on jobs.