Most businesses today, especially those with several employees, all of whom need to access a common database and/or bespoke programs, and/or access the Internet, have a computer network in place. It’s generally accepted that a cable network is better than a wireless one, although this is something that can be said to be swiftly changing. However, for larger firms cable networks are usually faster, more stable, and more secure from external interference.
No two Businesses are the same
But which network cabling solution is best for your business? What are the various factors you should be considering and what are the main decision drivers? Here in this article we will lay out the various options open to you and guide you as to which are more appropriate for a given set of circumstances.
Important Prerequisites to Take on Board
Whatever option you decide is appropriate for your business, there are two important prerequisites to consider. The first is looking to the future. Where will your business be, or where do you hope it will be, in terms of size and personnel, in the foreseeable future?
What Does the Future Hold for Networks?
Most business owners will be hoping that their businesses will grow and prosper. After all, it seems pretty pointless to start an enterprise in the first place if there is no potential for growth and expansion. So it’s important when you are considering installing a wired network, to build in sufficient spare capacity to be able to allow more users to connect, as and when required. If you don’t, and you end up having to modify a cabled network at a later stage, it could prove expensive, and may even require a complete re-cabling solution, which would be not only more costly, but time-consuming and inconvenient too.
Cheap and Cheerful or Cheap and Woeful?
The other important consideration is quality. When considering a project such as this, it’s important to obtain several quotations from various contractors. However, you shouldn’t just plump for the cheapest. It often turns out to be the case that the cheaper quotation, the more inferior the quality. Asking your employees to work on a substandard quality network may cause more problems with speed and downtime than you realise. It could end up costing you more in terms of inefficient operation, and time lost.
The Types of Cabling Available
There are essentially five different types of network cabling available that we will discuss here, and they are:
- · Category 5 (Cat5)
- · Category 5e (Cat5e)
- · Category 6 (Cat6)
- · Category 7 (Cat7)
- · Fibre Optic cable
Cat 5 Cable
Cat5 cable used to be the industry standard. It was originally designed to cope with speeds of 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps (Megabits per second). If you’ve only got a short run of cable, you might even be able to squeeze a speed of one gigabyte through it, but that’s in no way guaranteed. With today’s vastly increased data handling requirements Cat5 is rapidly becoming a thing of the past and any innovative company wouldn’t make this choice.
The “e” in Cat5e stands for “enhanced”; so in other words, Cat5e is an enhanced version of the old Cat5. It has been designed to support speeds of 1000 Mbps (1 Gigabit), so is much faster than its predecessor. In addition to being faster, it also minimises something called “crosstalk” which is basically the name given to the interference that can be generated between wires inside the cable itself.
Cat6 cable is a further improvement on Cat5e. This little chap is not only capable of handling speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second, but its screening capabilities to shield against both external interference and crosstalk, have also been enhanced. Cat7 is again an upgrade to earlier versions and is also intended to allow 10Gbit/s over 100 metres of copper cabling.
Fibre Optic Cabling
Fibre optic cabling, is “the daddy”. But it’s also quite an expensive daddy too. When it comes down to the four different types of cabling options, optical fibre is by far the most expensive, but it does have some tremendous things to offer, if indeed you are in a position to be able to take advantage of them.
The Speed of Light
Instead of using good old-fashioned electricity to transmit its signals, fibre optic cable uses light instead. We all know about the speed of light of course - it’s the fastest thing known to man, excepting Gene Roddenberry’s warp drive (thank you Star Trek). Fibre optic can transmit signals at more than 10 Gigs per second, which is pretty fast in anybody’s language. But that’s not all.
Fibre optic cable is not subject to any outside electrical interference, nor does it generate any electro-magnetic-fields that could interfere with other electrical equipment. In other words, it can be run almost anywhere. In fact, where critical sensitive equipment has been installed, like MRI scanners in hospitals for example, fibre optic is the only way to go.
Distance is no Object, but Cost is
Another big advantage that fibre optic cabling has, is that because it is not sending its signal down physical wiring, but is using light instead, it meets virtually no resistance. This means that the signal strength does not noticeably weaken. In fact, the signal can travel over 5000 miles before you have to start thinking about boosting it.
But choosing fibre-optic may be taking that one step too many, because as we’ve already said, it’s more expensive. Then there’s the cost of the cable itself to consider, plus the cost of installation too. Saying that, depending on the size and nature of the business using it, there’s ROI to be had when choosing fibre as it can handle significantly more bandwidth and is ideal for large organisations or those that use a huge amount of network bandwidth, such as CAD companies (architects, for example).
Cable Choice Influences
Having taken a look at the various cable options that are available, let’s now look at what other factors you need to consider in order to decide which type of cable go with.
What Bandwidth do you need?
The first thing that you need to consider when trying to determine which choice of cable to go with, is the size of your current bandwidth requirements. But, bearing in mind what we talked about earlier, you must also consider what size of bandwidth you may require in the future.
The size of your current network (also taking into consideration any future expansion) is your prime consideration. For example, a small network of only 10 workstations would normally be expected to have a lower bandwidth signature than one of say, 50 stations. But it’s not just that. It also depends on the nature of the data that being pushed around too.
Type and Volume of Data
The nature of the data that is expected to be carried by the network is of great importance. For example; a design studio operating only three or four PCs or Macs, but dealing with and creating graphics, will generate a far larger data requirement than an office running 20 PCs, simply working on MS Word and or Excel files.
Often businesses are often multifunctional in terms of the disciplines that staff are dealing with. Office staff will be working with Microsoft Office software, design staff with graphics software, and publishing staff creating PDFs and such like. Forecasting how each department may evolve in terms of personnel and their associated data requirements is no easy task. In fact it’s all about guess work and exceptional business planning. But when made by the right people with a finger on the business’ pulse, at least it will be an educated guess.
Erring on the Safe Side
Generally speaking, if the budget can be stretched, it’s far better to overestimate the future bandwidth requirements than to underestimate them. Underestimation will adversely affect the business’s functionality and efficiency, and it will cost more again if the need arises to update or re-cable the network at a later date. Future proofing and scalability are vital in today’s connected world.
Working to Budget
In many instances, IT managers may simply be given a budget and told to get on with it. Hopefully, if the company is a forward-thinking one, the bosses will have consulted the IT department before finalising the budget.
In terms of cost, cable prices become progressively more expensive, rising up through the ranks from Cat5 to Fibre Optic. However, two things are clear. One is that Cat5 is outdated and as such should never really be considered for a new cable network installation.
Overkill or Prudence?
At the other end of the scale, fibre optic, although much faster, and safer in terms of interference and the need for shielding, is overkill for some businesses. They may even find that legacy hardware is not up to the job of taking advantage of the speed that fibre optic cabling can offer.
Then of course there’s the cost. It’s the most expensive of the options. But having said that, providing the equipment can be kept in a reasonable dust free environment, and the budget is flexible enough, it is undoubtedly the best way to go. Future capacity-wise, it will handle most things that will be thrown at it.
The Middle Road
For the majority of smaller network installations, Cat 5e – Cat7 will be sufficient. But as there is not a huge cost differential (and the labour cost for installation would be the same, whichever one is chosen), then fibre offers that extra speed, meaning that businesses can opt for more bandwidth to allow for a good margin of expansion in the future. In terms of looking forward, getting it right now, first time, can save an awful lot of aggravation and possible extra expense.
Good planning is vital and it pays to choose a supplier that can cover all bases, from initial design of the network, to installation and testing. There is also another option that we haven’t mentioned here and that is Air Blown Fibre Optics, so check out our page for this for more information.
At Quadratek, we provide the full solution, whatever your cabling needs and networking needs, so get in touch to see how we can meet all of your networking needs, from Ethernet cabling to wireless, support and Break-Fix SLAs.