Structured wiring is a general term that refers to a whole-house network of audio, video, data, telephone, television, home automation or security signals. Structured wiring begins with a structured networking panel (SNP), which accepts cables from outside providers and distributes the signals directly to each room in your home. These direct lines, called “home runs”, ensure the strongest possible connection and signal to each of your electronic devices.
Structured wiring can be installed while a home is under construction, retrofitted during a remodel or added on its own. This buying guide will explain what to look for in structured wiring systems and networking panels, so you can feel confident you’ll receive the highest level of performance from your electronics.
Advantages of Structured Wiring
Speed – Ethernet speed is currently much faster than wireless. If you download or share large files you may want an Ethernet connection to a desktop computer and use wireless for your laptop or other device.
Configurability – If you run two cables of each type to each room, you can configure the wires in a number of ways. For example, you can play a DVD in one room and watch it on a TV in another room or share one printer among several computers located throughout your house.
Troubleshooting – Because the cables in a home run configuration all run directly from the SNP to the outlet, it’s easy to isolate problems in a specific wire.
Consistent signal quality – Splicing cables together can lead to loss of signal quality. Running all cable directly from the SNP to the termination points eliminates splices and keeps signal quality strong on each cable
Structured Networking Panels
A Structured Networking Panel (SNP) accepts and distributes signals throughout your home, much like an electrical panel receives and distributes electricity. Cables from outside service providers, such as telephone or cable television, come into the panel. From the panel, signals are distributed in home runs or direct lines to each room in your home. The SNP can also serve as the distribution point for internal signals, such as audio, video or security cameras or in-home computer networking, such as for a shared printer.
Pre-fabricated SNPs are available in a variety of sizes and configurations that include the devices necessary to distribute the signals you need throughout your home. These may include punchdown blocks for telephone wires, signal amplifiers, routers, modems and an electrical power source to power the different devices in the panel. You can also configure your own panel. Before buying or configuring an SNP, consider the components you’ll want to include in your networking system, both now and in the future, and select a panel that can grow as your needs increase or as technology changes.
From the SNP, you can run different types of cables depending on the signals you plan to distribute.
Category 5e cables, also called CAT-5e or generically called Ethernet cables, are the industry standard for connecting telephones, computer networks, home automation networks and audio/video distribution systems. CAT-6 is the emerging standard, offering up to twice the bandwidth of CAT-5e. Either can be used in home networking, and they are installed in the same way. CAT-5e cables consist of 4 pairs of wire (8 total conductors) with an Ethernet capability of up to 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps). They terminate in RJ-46 plugs, which look like wider versions of common telephone plugs.
RG6 Quad Shield coaxial cable, usually called coax, is most often used to carry television signals and cable-based broadband Internet signals and to connect video equipment. CAT-5e and coaxial cable are the backbone of a structured cabling system that organizes and distributes connectivity throughout your home. For a structured media setup, you can buy bundles of wiring, with two runs each of CAT-5e and coaxial cables.
Fiber Optic Cables
Fiber optic cable is less common in residential applications than coax and CAT-5e, but it holds tremendous potential for delivering massive amounts of data, video and audio at unprecedented speeds. If you need to install cable over a long run and must have the highest quality, you'll want to consider fiber optics. Fiber optic cables use glass or plastic threads to efficiently transmit data.
As prices have come down on fiber optics and connecting the cables to your electronics has become easier, more people are opting for fiber optics. However, CAT-5e combined with coax is still the most common method of wiring a home.
Multi-port wall plates allow you to run different types of cable from the SNP to each room and terminate them all in a single wall plate. The ports accommodate snap-in connectors for coaxial, Cat-5e/6 and telephone terminations. Blanks are available to close-off unused ports.
If you are installing a network yourself, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of connectors on hand.
Twisted-Pair Cable Connectors
The ends of CAT-5e cables are terminated in connectors known as RJ-45 jacks, which look like common RJ-11 (phone) jacks, only wider.
Coaxial Cable Connectors
F connectors are often used with coax in broadcast and cable television equipment. F connectors provide an inexpensive and stable connection to these communications devices and other cables.
Fiber Optic Cable Connectors
Fiber optic cables require different types of connectors from those used with coax or CAT-5e cables. If you choose to use fiber optic cable in your home, you may need to install a special adapter in your computer to utilize a fiber optic connector.
Video Amplifier Module -- Boosts the strength of CATV signals, eliminates FM interference, and is ideal for longer cable runs or when splitting to multiple locations.
Blank inserts -- Cover up unused housing openings and preserve extra ports for future applications.
Furniture hole covers -- Organize your cables and wires on your desktop.