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The Ups & Downs of Network Cable

May 9, 2004

© 2004 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Church Business

Churches are about program, not administration.  During church site development projects we focus on program-related needs— auditorium, classrooms, etc— that’s only natural.  We look ahead with vision to meet our growing needs in these areas.  What often gets left behind is a balanced look at our growing administrative needs.  One of those is setting our campuses up for data communications— our network.

Networks run best when their infrastructure is solid.  Let’s look at a few network cable issues worth keeping in mind as we plan our new site.

Conduit & Cable Runs
Two things are usually true about network cable:

  • You can’t have too much conduit, and
  • You never lose when pulling more data cable than you currently need during construction.

We recommend laying data conduit to locations beyond the obvious.  Every building should be connected.  It’s also wise to lay data conduit to various locations in the worship center like from the sound booth to the podium, the front, middle, and back rows, and to the sides.  Even to the middle and back areas on the platform!  A good rule of thumb is that whatever amount of conduit seems reasonable, double it!

Church teams often quickly grow beyond what anyone envisioned.  With that in mind, we recommend pulling more data cable than is currently needed.  Consider pulling at least two cable drops to every office (to different walls) as well as pulling some extra runs that just stay coiled up in the ceiling.  When they’re eventually needed, you’ll be thanked for having so much foresight!  And multiple drops in each office also gives your team an extra measure of furniture layout flexibility.

What About Wireless?
That’s a good question!  Wireless networks work well, but hard-wired networks are faster, more secure, and more stable.
Faster.  Wireless networks today have a top speed of just over 50 megabits per second (Mbps).  Wired networks today run at 1000Mbps!  With data files getting larger and larger, the difference can really be felt, and will only become more pronounced in the future.
Secure.  Wireless networks are open and available to all who have wireless devices, whereas wired networks require a physical connection to gain access.  Wireless networks can be easily secured, but many either forget to do so or may get hacked.  Remember, churches have a lot of sensitive data that we don’t want unauthorized people to access.
Stable.  Wireless networks are subject to interference that can slow the system down.  Technically, wired networks are susceptible to this too, but to a much smaller degree and which can be controlled.

What Kind Of Cable?
There are two general categories of cable in use today: copper and glass, or fiber.  For longer runs (over 100 meters) and for those through lots of electromagnetic interference fields, fiber is best.  Otherwise, category 5e or 6 (copper wire) is good, can transmit 1000Mbps, and is less expensive and easier to work with.

We feel very comfortable when our clients say they’d like to pull their own cable to save money.  We only request two things:

  1. Cable that is properly spec’d.  Today that means Cat5e or Cat6 cable.  This is necessary to move data over a fast network well.
  2. The cable must be certified with an appropriate testing device, such as a PentaScanner.  These devices do more than just “tone” a line to make sure it’s not broken, they test its engineering specs to ensure it is properly routed, within distance specs, etc.  This kind of testing usually costs less than $1000, and is worth it.  It removes the possibility that network issues are being caused by the most basic component of the network:  the cable.

All cables should terminate in a somewhat secured area at a patch panel.  The patch panel port numbers should be written on the port switch plates throughout the campus, and also recorded on a wiring diagram.

Is That All?
Well, there is one more issue that’s worth mentioning and is part of the infrastructure discussion.  There are two things you need to know about hubs and switches:

  1. Switches, though they cost a little more, are better than hubs because they minimize network traffic.  It’s like the difference between regular telephone lines and the old party lines that put a bunch of houses all on one line.  When one house monopolized the line, no one else could use it!
  2. The only switches worth considering today are auto-sensing on all ports.  That means that any device connected to it can communicate at whatever its speed capability is.  So older print servers can communicate at 10Mbps, older computers can communicate at 100Mbps, and newer computers and servers can communicate at 1000Mbps.  This will help you migrate towards faster communicating systems gracefully rather than forcing the issue and requiring the use of funds that are better spent elsewhere.
  3. If you can buy it in a store, you probably don’t want it.  The hubs and switches carried on the shelves of most stores are not engineered for corporate networks.  It’s best to ask your cabling or network vendor for these specs.

Network cable can cause myriad headaches and sleepless nights, or it can seem to not even exist because it’s completely trouble free.  If I get to vote, I choose trouble free every time!  It doesn’t cost much more, and its benefits are almost priceless.

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