Saturday, May 9, 2009

Cat5 Twisted Pair Wire, The Unsung Hero Of The Internet Age

I was doing an archeological dig in a computer room the other day, and it struck me that of all the amazing advances we’ve seen in the world of computing in the last couple of decades, what stands out to me as the biggest catalyst and facilitator for them all, and one of the most overlooked advancements of these heady times, is the development of user and installer friendly networks via Cat5 twisted pair wiring.

Before Local Area Networks moved to distribution through twisted pair, it wasn’t very easy, or pretty, to make network access widely available in the home or workplace. In the early days of networking, the medium of choice for a long time was various types of coax. First there was Thicknet, a large and unwieldy beast that needed holes drilled in it to accommodate device taps. Not anything you could incorporate unobtrusively into a work or living space.

Then there was Thinnet, a thinner version of coax (RG58) than what we’re used to running for our TV’s. Although it could be easily integrated into an outlet box, and the cable itself wasn’t too big to conceal, it still meant needing a second delivery system to the location, twisted pair for phone and coax for data. Plus, it was a pain in the butt to connectorize.

The development of Category 5, 5e and 6 twisted pair wire, capable of transmitting both voice and data at high rates of speed, is an example of convergence at its very root. It’s allowed installation of a single type of physical medium on the premise, making connectivity easy, and because the T568B standard will support Ethernet transmission speeds up to 1000BASE-T, it’s extended the average life expectancy of the cable plant, saving a small fortune in wiring costs.

Easier, cheaper delivery on the premise means it’s easier to connect devices, which means it’s easier to deliver things like Wi-Fi. It’s also enabled delivery of PoE (Power over Ethernet) to the device, saving money, labor and space, not to mention greatly improving aesthetics, by delivering enough juice along with the Ethernet connection to power small devices, such as the aforementioned Wireless Access Points, without the need for a power outlet nearby, or an unsightly power cable.

It doesn’t stop there, though. New devices making use of Cat5 and above cabling are coming out all the time. I’ve been a big proponent of audio and video over Cat5 for quite a while, as it opens a whole new door in cable plant convergence. Although video over Ethernet is a great thing, it can cause unnecessary stress on a network in certain situations, and sometimes there’s a need to keep video segregated for privacy or security reasons. Having the ability to broadcast a separate stream of audio and video utilizing the existing cable plant gives you the ultimate in flexibility.

So, a tip of the hat to Cat5 twisted pair wire, its made being “connected” a piece of cake, and all this easy peasy connectivity has changed the way we do business and communicate.

End of transmission.

No comments: