Copper Cabling 101

What is copper cabling? Use these definitions to become familiar with the basics of copper cabling, which goes by many names in our industry. This can facilitate interactions with cabling contractors or when seeking competitive bids, requests for quotes, etc.

Common Names

These terms are used when referring to the copper cabling that connects modern telecom and information technology systems. Essentially, each term has the same meaning, so they’re often used interchangeably by our industry.

  • Network cabling
  • Structured cabling
  • Data cabling
  • Computer cabling

Additional Terms

More terms follow that comprise our vocabulary. Again, all terms below (and above) refer to the copper wiring that makes modern telecom/data systems possible. Keep this in mind as you research the topic, do Google or Bing searches, etc.

  • Cable runs
  • Low voltage cabling
  • Cable drops
  • Ethernet cables
  • Twisted pairs
  • Category cabling

Glossary of Key Terms

A quick guide to some of the more common trade nomenclature.

Attenuation – Known also as Insertion Loss or Signal Loss, this refers to a decrease in the magnitude of signal transmission, so this term represents a network problem that typically needs resolution. See Latency.

Backbone cabling – The cabling and hardware that interconnects telecommunications rooms (or closets), equipment rooms and entrance facilities. See Horizontal cabling.

Balanced twisted pair cabling – Used typically for data and telephone networks, these cables are designed with two copper wires twisted together to form a balanced pair. The twisting prevents electromagnetic interference from other pairs in the cable, which causes unwanted interference known as Cross talk.

Category cabling – This refers to the ratings (such as “Cat 5” or “Cat 5e”) assigned to the different categories of balanced twisted pairs as based on their mechanical properties and transmission characteristics. These ratings follow:

  • Cat 3 – Maximum 16 MHz frequency, speed at 10 Mbps and 328 feet in (length). Often used in telephone, ethernet or token ring computer networking.
  • Cat 4 – No longer available or recognized by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA).
  • Cat 5 – Another category that is no longer available or recognized by TIA.
  • Cat 5e – Maximum 100 MHz frequency, speed at 100 Mbps and 328 feet in length. The “e” stands for enhanced. This category features more stringent requirements to reduce both near- and far-end Cross talk.
  • Cat 6 – Maximum of 250 MHz frequency, speed at 1 Gbps and 328 feet in length.
  • Cat 6a– Maximum of 500 MHz, speed at 10 Gbps and 328 feet in length. This category is augmented (hence the “a”) with insertion loss specifications and alien cross talk mitigation.
  • Cat 7 – Maximum of 600 MHz frequency, speed at 10 Gbps, 328 feet in length. Not a popular choice because of connector preferences and not approved by some industry associations.
  • Cat 8 – Maximum of 2000 MHz, speed at 40 Gbps, 98 feet in length. Typically used for data centers interconnect.

Connectors – These small mechanical devices align, attach and achieve continuity between conductors or optical fibers. Dozens of different types are used.

  • Connectors known as modular jacks have small openings or sockets (like those embedded in walls protected by wall plates). These receive connectors called modular plugs, which are inserted into the jacks.

Cross talk – Due to electromagnetic interference, this occurs when voice signals transfer from one or more twisted pairs of copper to other pairs bundled within the same cable, causing users to hear unwanted voice transmissions.

Fireproof – The property of building material like drywall, concrete, masonry, block or brick that does not support combustion. Keep in mind no material is entirely fireproof.

Horizontal cabling – Distribution media that connect the telecommunications outlet connector at the work area and the first piece of connecting hardware in the horizontal cross-connect or floor distributor. A cross connect is a facility enabling the termination of cable elements and their interconnection or cross connection.

Latency – The time for a signal to pass through a device or network. An example is the time a switch receives a message on an input port and forwards it to the correct output port.

Patch cord – With plugs on both end, this is a shorter cable used to connect two devices within a network.

Patch panel – Like a home fuse box, this hardware has multiple ports and is the intersection that receives all the electrical circuits in the network design.

Port – A physical connection point located on network access device like a Hub, Switch or Patch panel with openings or sockets to receive a network connection.

Plenum-rated cabling (Important: installation of cabling whose fire rating is not appropriate for the space it occupies is illegal due to the potential of safety hazards, including life-threatening situations. We can address any questions about selecting the right cable based on performance, safety, codes and reliability.) Plenum refers to the space or chamber to which one or more air ducts are connected, forming a facility’s air distribution system. Cabling installed in these spaces must be rated for higher fire resistance. They are designed to produce low smoke and flame levels.

Riser-rated cabling(Important: installation of cabling whose fire rating is not appropriate for the space it occupies is illegal due to potential safety hazards, including possible life-threatening situations. We can address any questions about selecting the right cable based on performance, safety, codes and reliability.) Riser cabling is used in non-plenum space and vertical shafts, rooms or spaces inside a building.

Switch – A network access device that is the central point for LAN communications, media connections and the management of network activities whereby each port in the switch represents a separate communications channel. The switch receives data packets then forwards them to proper destinations or devices within the network, based on the endpoint’s network address.

Cabling Consultation

We bring more than 25 years of experience in designing and installing copper cabling infrastructure for organizations of all sizes. Contact us at 502-583-6000 or Support if you need advice or consultation on the right cabling solution.

Sources: 2020 interviews with AGC’s network cabling designer and senior management in addition to BICSI’s Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual (TDMM), 11th edition, with references herein to the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA).