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Choosing the Right Cabling System

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When its time to choose a cabling system, there are several factors you must take into consideration before making a decision. Cabling systems range from category 5e to category 7a. Although a cat5e system has the lowest initial installation cost compared to cat6a or cat7a, you must consider the total cost of ownership. Initial installation costs include cost of components, cost of labor, and cost of testing. The lower performing cabling systems have lower initial cost, and the higher performing systems have higher initial costs. Depending on how long you plan to use the cabling system for, the total cost of ownership for a lower performing cabling system could end up being more in the long run than spending more initially for a category 6a or 7a system.

Cabling Life cycles

  • A category 5e system cannot support 10g Base-T, and is limited to a 5 year maximum life cycle. This cabling system will require replacement as 10 gig electronics become more readily offered. Replacing a cabling system is expensive and includes cost of removal of your existing system, cost of the new cabling system, cost of installation, and cost of network downtime you will incur.
  • Legacy category 6 systems are being considered for 10gig applications over a limited distance, giving category6 only a 2 year life cycle advantage over category5e, with a lifecycle of 7 years. That being the case, you must take into consideration how far your structured cabling needs extend. If they exceed the distance restrictions of legacy cat6, you will need to choose an alternate cabling system.
  • Category6a cabling systems can support 10g Base-T with a 10 year life cycle. This cabling system will support 10gig applications without the length restrictions of legacy cat6.
  • Category 7a is expected to support applications beyond 10gig Ethernet extending its life cycle to 15 years. This is currently the most advanced structured cabling system available. However, it is also the most costly at the initial time of purchase.

To make the decision on which cabling system is right for you, first determine how long you will be using it for. If you plan on only using a cabling system for a year, a cat5e cabling system would be the best financial decision due to the low initial cost. However, if you are planning on using the cabling system for more than 5 years, it would make more fiscal sense to use a higher performing cabling system such as cat6a or cat7a. To install a category5e cabling system based on the lower initial cost might seem like a good idea, but you must consider all factors of the total cost of ownership of your cabling system.

Factors to consider are:

  • Installation cost
  • Lifecycle of system
  • Annualized cost of ownership
  • Incremental Testing cost
  • Cost to upgrade
  • Downtime cost

With a higher performing cabling system such as 6a or 7a, your structured cabling installation cost is basically your only cost. Since your cable system already supports 10 gig, you will not have to pay for any upgrades or incremental testing. Also, you will not face any downtime costs associated with a system upgrade; all these are issues that a lower performing system will encounter.

Based strictly on annualized cost, most if not all of the savings collected from installing a lower performing cabling system with a lower installation cost up front are lost over the life cycle of that cabling system. This is true even prior to taking into account the incremental cost to upgrade, going from 10 /100 to 1 gigabit. Invest in a cabling system that’s lifecycle matches your needs as far as how long you will be using it for. A cabling system is potentially the most costly and difficult element of your network to replace, so choosing the right one for you is critical. It is better to spend the extra money in the beginning than to have recurring costs to upgrade and test your system, costing you much more in the long run.

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