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Determining Your Current Network Bandwith Needs

Your primary concern in determining the type of cabling to use is your network’s current bandwith requirements.  This figure can vary greatly based on the size of the network (i.e., the number of workstations connected to the network).  A small network of 15 workstations will generally have much lower bandwith requirements than a network that needs to support 100 workstations.  Future growth should also be factored when considering network size.  If your company is expecting to double the number of employees over the next two years, then you can expect your bandwith needs to increase accordingly.  To complicate matters further, you must also factor in the type and volume of the data traffic that your network will be supporting.  For example, a small multimedia and graphic design firm with only 10 stations will likely have much greater bandwith requirements than a law firm consisting of 25 workstations.  Again, this is due primarily to the type and volume of the data one can expect in each work environment:  a single user transferring a 5-minute high definition video across the network can easily consume more bandwith than 20 users opening MS Word and Excel files.

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Assessing the Network Environment

Your network environment plays a large part in determining the best type of cabling you should use.  While optical fiber offers the fastest possible bandwith and is the best medium for “future proofing” your network, certain environments are ill suited toward fiber optic installation.  Unlike twisted copper mediums like Cat5e or Cat6, optical fiber is prone to transmission problems due to dirt and scratches on the fiber.  This can be typical of dirty or dusty mechanical closets, equipment closets, and any rooms that are not clean or friendly to fiber technology.  In such cases, twisted copper solutions might be the best way to go.  Alternatively, certain environments cause problems with twisted copper mediums.    Although Cat5e and Cat6 have much improved noise immunity than their twisted copper predecessors, they are susceptible to high RF (radio frequency) and EMI (electromagnetic interference).  Hospitals, for example, have tremendous RF interference problems over twisted pair cabling.  A Cat5e or Cat6 cable running alongside a CAT scanner or NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) scanner would be rendered virtually useless due to RF interference.  In such environments, optical fiber is the ideal solution as it is all but immune to such interference.

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The Onsite Survey

Once in the new location, a cabling installer will be looking at several things to help him or her provide you with a quote.  Specifically, a voice/data network cabling installer will be looking at or verifying:

  • The type of construction in use
  • Location and appropriateness of the server room and/or wiring closet
  • Measuring distances of the various cable runs
  • Determining whether an IDF (intermediate distribution point) will be required.  For larger spaces, or spaces containing many company divisions, it is often necessary or beneficial to have multiple wiring closets to separate logical divisions in a network, or to extend a network beyond 300 feet from the MDF (main distribution point, usually the main wiring closet or server room).
  • Determining whether any special cabling will be required, such as fiber optic to connect remote IDF’s, CAT6 over CAT5e for spaces that might cause interference in data transmissions

Once a cabling professional has been able to physically survey your new or existing location, they will then take the information they have gathered to provide you with a quote.  It is a good idea to get multiple quotes from different vendors.

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Questions from Your Cable Installer: Will You Be Moving an Existing Phone System?

This is a question that may or may not be asked, depending upon whether the cabling installer is  moving the type of phone system that your office uses.  It may be that they can do this for you as part of the cost of wiring the new location, or they sub-contract this out to another company that specializes in the type of phone equipment your office uses.

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Is Your Data Network Able To Support VOIP?

You have made the decision to implement VOIP.   Can your data network support it?   If you have high latency or low throughput segments currently in your network, VOIP will make this painfully clear (if you did not already know).  Make sure you understand the performance of your network and the bandwith requirements of your VOIP solution.  A company that has only a single voice call active at a time, on average, has completely different VOIP and bandwith needs from a company that does telemarketing, for instance, or a customer service call center.  Make sure you discuss these issues with any prospective VOIP vendor you work with so that you do not find out after you implement your VOIP solution that you must now upgrade your data network to support it.

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The Benefits of VOIP

There are many benefits of VOIP.   One is administration.   The number is assigned to the phone, not the wall jack, so you issue a phone to an employee and it works wherever they plug it in.  With modern VOIP PBX solutions, you have significant administrative control over things like who your employees can call, when they  can call, how long they can talk, who can call them – the range of control can be amazing depending on your vendor.

All of this results in a lower overall cost of ownership for VOIP in many cases.  This is not a generic result and there are many variables, but for many offices VOIP can cut costs dramatically.  But, remember this this also places your voice services on your data network.  Failure of a network element isolates both data and voice service.  This is generally uncommon, but you cannot ignore the fact that losing a switch for instance, will make it impossible for people on that switch to call and report the outage.

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Taking a Look at the Budget When Determining Cabling Needs

While working within a budget is certainly something one should consider, it must be understood that the difference in costs between Cat5e, Cat6 and optical fiber is insignificant compared to the costs involved in not using the correct conveyance media for current and future network requirements.  The old adage that “it is better to do it right the first time” certainly holds true when planning your network infrastructure.  Not doing it right the first time could cost your company far more than it saved by choosing an older technology or less expensive conveyance media, not to mention that not choosing the correct media could cripple a network and bring about the wrath of its users.  Because of this, current and future bandwith requirements, as well as an understanding of your network environment should play a far more important role than cost in determining which type of cabling is best suited for your needs.

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