Cabling containment in a wired world
Data-communications systems have become an accepted and integral part of a growing majority of modern multi-service electrical installations. Nevertheless, the demand for increased bandwidth and greater network speeds is putting additional pressure on installers and contractors. This not only includes the need to contain and protect a combination of mains power together with sensitive, high-tech wiring and cabling in mission-critical structured networks, but also to future-proof these increasingly complex systems against ever-higher customer requirements.
Rapid and continuing growth in both the density and complexity of wiring and cabling for multiple electrical services in modern buildings has brought the need for safe and efficient cable management systems into sharp focus for contractors and installers. In today’s wired world, businesses and organisations of every kind have become increasingly reliant on IT systems. In addition to the networked data and communications systems based on structured cabling which are now included routinely as an integral part of many general installations, there is a significant trend towards the use of dedicated data-centres. Multiple wiring and cabling services within these high-technology, high-security installations can be both complex and extensive. Multiple electrical services can include mains power networks, lighting, building controls and other ancillary services, as well as high-density data-communications cabling based on conventional hard-wired and optical fibre technologies.
Appearance and cost
The need for any chosen cable containment system to combine electrical safety and performance with adequate physical capacity over its projected life must also be balanced against customer considerations including both appearance and final cost. This is not just related directly to initial purchase-price, but to the total installation costs which are determined principally by the speed and ease with which the containment system can be handled, assembled and installed under actual – and frequently difficult – site conditions.
The use of unsuitable or inadequate containment systems for the high speed, high bandwidth data-communications cabling forming the heart of all structured networks can increase installation time and costs as well as reduce network performance and reliability. It can also place severe limits on its flexibility in meeting new physical layouts and network configurations as well as limiting the possibility for future expansion. In all cases, the installer’s choice of cable management system will have a direct impact on profitability.
Providing a common system to cover all voice, video and data communications applications, structured cabling is based on Commercial Building Telecommunications standards, now detailed under British Standard BS6701 2004. Typical networks comprise RJ45 connectors cabled back and connected to patch-panels in a purpose-built room or communications centre, typically using cables with four pairs of copper conductors, either as UTP (Unshielded Twisted Pair), STP (Shielded Twisted Pair) or FTP (Foiled Twisted Pair).
Although the majority of structured networks are based currently on CAT5e and CAT6 (UTP) cables, developments have moved towards even faster, higher capacity conductors. Cables meeting CAT6A Ethernet specifications provide a data transmission speed of 10 Gigabits and 500 MHz of bandwidth. While some structured cabling manufacturers are supplying the new Cat6A, other suppliers are actively promoting Cat6 STP and Cat 7 screened solutions which will also operate up to 10 Gigabits. Although data transmission solutions of this type were designed originally for use in data centres, large end-users such as the civil service and government ministries are already generating a significant demand for Cat6A and screened cables.
The greater data-capacity of these latest-technology cables has resulted in an increase in cable diameter from 6mm to 10mm. This in turn makes it even more important that the appropriate cable management system is specified at the earliest possible design stage to accommodate the larger cables, eliminate the possibility of damage from crushing, snagging or excessive bending and ensure sufficient room for future system expansion.
Although the latest cables are designed to meet the demand for higher speeds and bandwidths, developments in installation and containment systems are also becoming increasingly important. It is now recognised that the ongoing and future requirements of both the end user and the installer need to be considered, not only to prevent damage to highly sensitive cabling but to exploit the full potential of latest-generation structured networks which continue to grow in size as well as speed and capacity.
The key role played by the cable containment system is now increasingly recognised. Application-specific cable management systems ensure networks can be safely and securely installed while enabling installation time and cost to be reduced.
In consequence there is a growing need for consultants, specifiers, installers and users to examine carefully the range of modern cable management solutions currently available to meet the requirements for under-floor as well as perimeter and desktop applications. In addition to the increased bend radii requirements for the latest types of data-communications cables, the depth and capacity of the containment system, and the requirement for back-boxes with increased depth must all be considered at the earliest possible design stage. Products such as deep, high-capacity, two-compartment trunking systems providing 50mm bend radius, deeper back boxes and steel dividers for BS50174-2, along with under-floor solutions, have been developed for use with latest-technology cables. Raised-access floor boxes are now available with greater depth and extra capacity, capable of accepting Cat6, Cat6A and screened solutions.
Cable containment and protection systems based on the latest materials technology now offer the contractor and installer the combined benefits of lightness and strength as well as being easy to work and shape. The right choice of trunking, track, tray, floor box, power post or pole at the outset of any project can also give designers the flexibility to match current requirements, with built-in capacity for future expansion and upgrading.
Traditional open-plan office design has led to the development of versatile multi-compartmental trunking which allows power, communications and data-communications cabling to be separately routed and contained in individually-lidded compartments within a single integrated system. Complemented by power poles, power posts and floor boxes, these modular components provide a floor-to-desk system delivering multiple services to island workstations, with in-built flexibility allowing the system to be modified quickly and easily.
Surface trunkings enable re-wiring to be undertaken or for new wiring to be installed without damage to plasterwork, with dado and skirting trunkings available in a variety of materials, profiles and finishes to match interior decor in offices or public buildings. Where temporary or removable dividing walls are installed, special trunking can be supplied which allows power, voice and data cabling to be safely and securely distributed through screeded floors. Where a raised floor system is either undesirable or impractical, multi-compartmental perimeter trunking can provide a secure, efficient and cost-effective alternative.
In an attempt to save time and costs, data-communications cables are sometimes laid directly onto bare screeded sub-floors. In addition to the risk of water ingress, unprotected cables are highly susceptible to accidental damage, both during installation and from on-going construction work. In the event that additional cables are installed to modify or expand an existing network, the lack of clearly-defined cable-routing such as provided by a suitable cable management system, will mean that new cables will simply take the shortest, easiest path, ignoring installation standards and practices.
Purpose-designed cable-matting can provide efficient protection for under-floor data-communications networks. Products manufactured in water-resistant polymer sheet, provide protection against low flooding, physical damage and attack from chemicals in the floor screed. Dat- Mat also contains LSZH properties.
As market pressures within the IT industry force the pace of product development, parallel advances in manufacturing technologies are providing new cable management solutions. Taking a ‘right from the start’ approach in matching the correct product to a specific structured cable application will not just save the contractor and installer time and money, but will provide the client with a cost-effective and future-proof system which maintains the integrity of critical network performance.