Office Cabling: A Small Business Guide

Communications and data is the heartbeat of any office. Taken in that context, your office cabling is the lifeline that sustains, supplying both power and a conduit for the vital data that drives your business.

While that statement probably makes office cabling sound much more romantic than it really is, it’s still an integral component of your day-to-day function, and for that reason it’s important to get it right.

Office cabling serves several purposes, but essentially, it carries power and data signals to the appropriate equipment.

  • Voice and data cabling transmits internet signal, data transfer and telecommunications
  • Power cabling carries electricity to power your utilities and devices
  • Network cabling can also carry power to certain devices (also known as power over internet, or PoE)

Office Cabling: Protocols and Considerations

Your office cabling could be very simple or complex, based on the size of your operation and how many workstations you operate at any given time.  But in all cases, it must be well thought out prior to installation in order to maximize the available space and your overall floorplan.

Basically, your cabling will run from the building’s cross-connect point (where power and data signal come into the building) into your telecom panel and then into the wall outlets. From there, it will connect to your computers and other equipment.

Designing your office from scratch

If you are designing the layout of your office from scratch you might have an easier time of it, as you can make decisions based on what you actually need, obtain the most efficient and up-to-date technologies and future-proof your wiring as much as that might be possible.

Before you begin, consider these points:

  1. How is your office going to be laid out?
  2. How many computer workstations will you require?
  3. Will each workstation be desktop oriented, or will your workers use their laptops?
  4. Will you be running your own servers?
  5. Do you require a data centre?
  6. Is there adequate space allocated for your servers and other network equipment?
  7. Where is the connection to the building’s cross-connect point, and what wiring, if any, is already in place?
  8. What kind of growth can I expect in the next 1-5 years and how will this affect my cabling decisions?

Take into consideration those things you can’t change – for example the location of the cross-connect, or an existing telecom closet – and work outward from there. Once you have a rough idea of your technological needs, sketch out a diagram to see how it’s all going to work. If it makes sense on paper, it just might work in practice. Keep in mind that it’s much easier to re-think your plan before you begin rather than after you’ve already put in a lot of effort.

Above all, have a technician test all existing cables and lines to determine what you’re working with, and what you can check off your list of things to do.

Once you know your inventory, think about your specific needs and goals:

  1. What kind of networking hardware is required?
  2. What type of telephone system will you be using?

When you have a list of your needs, you’ll have a good idea of what your internal cabling requirements will be.

A Wireless Environment Still Requires Cables

Wireless connectivity can save a great deal of space and eliminate many cables, but it still requires some cabling to bring the internet signal into the space itself. After all, the signal has to come from somewhere, whether that is from cable wiring, phone lines (in the case of a DSL connection), or a satellite receiver.

Your location and the services available may determine how you lean in this department, but for all intents and purposes, cable provides a speedier connection and does not require a terrestrial phone line, which DSL does. A satellite receiver may be your best bet if you don’t live in an urban centre (line-of-sight interference can sometimes be an issue in the city), though weather, high winds and other things beyond your control, may make your connection a bit unpredictable. As for cabling, your incoming signal will need to be wired to a power source.  However, should a wireless environment be your ultimate goal, it should not require any further cabling beyond its connection to a modem or router.

Inside the office itself, a good wireless connection often depends on line-of-sight between the device or computer and the wireless signal transmitter or wireless router. Spend some time checking every corner of your office space for wireless ‘dead zones’. Depending on the floorplan of your office or the building itself, you may need some range extenders to help eliminate these spots.

Types of Office Cabling

The typical business office requires several different types of cabling systems. Some can handle multiple purposes, and some must be dedicated to a specific use.

Voice Cabling

While voice cabling typically does not require the same high standard of quality that computers do, most technicians will opt to use the higher standard for both purposes. For all intents and purposes, the cost difference is minimal, so opting for the higher standard is generally the best way to go.

With a strong movement toward the adoption of VoIP phone and telecommunications, you may have some choice as to whether to use an existing telecom infrastructure or not. VoIP does require some cabling, but smaller-scale VoIP environments can be deployed as software, and often directly through your ISP.

Data Cabling

Data cabling is the array of wires that transmit your internet signal to the various devices and computers in your office. You may need to run data cabling to service more than just your computers, however. Data cabling is necessary for an array of devices, including fax machines, printers, HD televisions, servers, external hard drives and other network storage devices. In some cases, these devices may be connected via a wireless signal, but some equipment, especially older models, may not provide you with this option, or conversely, they may require a much wider bandwidth than your wireless connection enables. Data cabling can be run behind wall enclosures, or it can be sealed at every endpoint.

Audio-Visual Cabling

Audio visual and multi-media requires a different class of cabling, and though it differs from your power and data cabling requirements, its design, placement and accessibility ranks high in importance if this is something you will be accessing on a regular basis.

The most important thing about your A/V cabling is that it is placed in such a way to be intuitive to its end use. For instance, if your video monitor is at one end of the room, your A/V connectivity should be at that end as well. It is a hotly debated topic as to whether the length of the cable affects the quality of an A/V signal, but it’s generally accepted that the shorter the cable, the better. Position your A/V connections as close as you possibly can to where your equipment is going to be placed, and make provisions for any eventuality. For example, even if your video monitor and main cabling connections are at one end, you might want to think about running a line to the opposite end of the room in the event that you need to connect a projector, laptop or other equipment.

Your VoIP or unified communications may need to connect to your A/V system as well, so take this into consideration when designing your network. With the increasing reliance of all sizes of business on voice conferencing, video conferencing and real-time web conferencing, your conference room signal takes on a much greater importance.

Security Systems Cabling

Security systems use audio-visual quality cabling, but each system differs greatly as to their individual requirements. CCTV systems can vary in quality greatly, but generally the higher quality the signal, the more important the integrity of the cabling itself. Depending on how your security system operates, you may need to run A/V cables to a dedicated hard drive in order to store recorded footage. In this case, you will need to allocate space in your technology room to accommodate the necessary drives and extra cabling. You may also want to consider running your security system on a PoE basis or at least with some sort of battery backup just to ensure you are protected, no matter what.

Office cabling: organization

Think of your cable array as that network of blood vessels that is constantly feeding your business: keeping it alive, so to speak, with energy and data.

The best laid-out cabling systems are easy to maintain and easy to understand, even for a layman. The best way to ensure that whomever is working on or maintaining your system has a clear idea of what’s what is to colour-code and label your cable groups.

Using an office label maker – or somebody in the office with very good handwriting – make labels for each individual cable. Make sure to label each one separately, and at each end. This is important because in some cases the cable itself may be making its way through several rooms or walls, and knowing exactly where it originates and where it’s intended to go can make the difference between screaming in frustration and a quick and easy hook-up.

Colour coding is also very helpful, as you can group cables of the same type into categories, such as specific offices, parts of the building, type of equipment they connect to, and so on. Cabling professionals often have their own colour code standards, and the best way to simplify this process is by erring towards whatever that standard is.

Lengths of your office cabling is important as well, and for several reasons. As stated above, audio/visual cabling signal quality is thought to benefit by the shortest possible cable length from source to output, but keeping your cable lengths to a minimum also helps to keep everything neat and tidy. Of course, you may be thinking far enough ahead to consider a move or office reconfiguration in the future, so you may not want to cut those lines too short. If this is the case, cable ties work well to bundle groups of cables together. Acting as sort of an external trunk, you can group types of cables, colours or room cables together like this, neatly rolling up and binding the unused portions so that they are not a hazard. Messy cables are not only an eyesore, but they can potentially cause a great deal of aggravation. If tripped over, you could be risking employee safety, but also you run the risk of disconnecting vital network, data, voice or other cables that power your business.

Office Cabling Standards and Best Practices: How EC-MSP can Help

Cabling standards and best practices is a rapidly changing landscape that requires some deft manoeuvring in order to stay current. Issues can include:

  • Advances in technology
  • Hardware trends
  • Telecommunications protocols
  • Fire safety standards
  • Electrical compliance

A professional cabling technician is the best person to consult when it comes to legal and safety standards. They are also the best people to consult once you have your plan more or less in place, as they can advise on ways to make your office cabling more efficient and how best to avoid problems in the future.

EC-MSP is the UK’s fastest growing IT consultancy, and the choice of many small businesses in the London area. Our technicians are networking experts, and are passionate about technology and everything new that is coming down the pike. If there is a new cabling standard, we know about it. If we discover a better way to wire your office, you can rest assured that we’re on the leading edge of making that happen.

If you are moving your office, relocating, upsizing, downsizing or upgrading your current cabling and network infrastructure, we’d love to help. Call to speak to one of our technicians and find out how easy it is to get started with EC-MSP today.