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Black Box Explains...Category wiring standards

The ABCs of standards
There are two primary organizations dedicated to developing and setting structured cabling standards. In North America, standards are issued by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA),... more/see it nowwhich is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The TIA was formed in April 1988 after a merger with the Electronics Industry Association (EIA). That’s why its standards are commonly known as ANSI/TIA/EIA, TIA/EIA, or TIA.

Globally, the organizations that issue standards are the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Standards are often listed as ISO/IEC. Other organizations include the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardizations), and the Japanese Standards Association (JSA/JSI).

The committees of all these organizations work together and the performance requirements of the standards are very similar. But there is some confusion in terminology.

The TIA cabling components (cables, connecting hardware, and patch cords) are labeled with a ”category.” These components together form a permanent link or channel that is also called a ”category.” The ISO/IEC defines the link and channel requirements with a ”class” designation. But the components are called a ”category.”

The standards
Category 5 (CAT5) —ratified in 1991. It is no longer recognized for use in networking.

Category 5e (CAT5e), ISO/IEC 11801 Class D, ratified in 1999, is designed to support full-duplex, 4-pair transmission in 100-MHz applications. The CAT5e standard introduced the measurement for PS-NEXT, EL-FEXT, and PS-ELFEXT. CAT5e is no longer recognized for new installations. It is commonly used for 1-GbE installations.

Category 6 (CAT6) – Class E has a specified frequency of 250 MHz, significantly improved bandwidth capacity over CAT5e, and easily handles Gigabit Ethernet transmissions. CAT6 supports 1000BASE-T and, depending on the installation, 10GBASE-T (10-GbE).

10-GbE over CAT6 introduces Alien Crosstalk (ANEXT), the unwanted coupling of signals between adjacent pairs and cables. Because ANEXT in CAT6 10-GbE networks is so dependent on installation practices, TIA TSB-155-A and ISO/IEC 24750 qualifies 10-GbE over CAT6 over channels of 121 to 180 feet (37 to 55 meters) and requires it to be 100% tested, which is extremely time consuming. To mitigate ANEXT in CAT6, it is recommended that the cables be unbundled, that the space between cables be increased, and that non-adjacent patch panel ports be used. If CAT6 F/UTP cable is used, mitigation is not necessary and the length limits do not apply. CAT6 is not recommended for new 10-GbE installations.

Augmented Category 6 (CAT6A) –Class Ea was ratified in February 2008. This standard calls for 10-Gigabit Ethernet data transmission over a 4-pair copper cabling system up to 100 meters. CAT6A extends CAT6 electrical specifications from 250 MHz to 500 MHz. It introduces the ANEXT requirement. It also replaces the term Equal Level Far-End Crosstalk (ELFEXT) with Attenuation to Crosstalk Ratio, Far-End (ACRF) to mesh with ISO terminology. CAT6A provides improved insertion loss over CAT6. It is a good choice for noisy environments with lots of EMI. CAT6A is also well-suited for use with PoE+.

CAT6A UTP cable is significantly larger than CAT6 cable. It features larger conductors, usually 22 AWG, and is designed with more space between the pairs to minimize ANEXT. The outside diameter of CAT6A cable averages 0.29"–0.35" compared to 0.21"–0.24" for CAT6 cable. This reduces the number of cables you can fit in a conduit. At a 40% fill ratio, you can run three CAT6A cables in a 3/4" conduit vs. five CAT6 cables.

CAT6A UTP vs. F/UTP. Although shielded cable has the reputation of being bigger, bulkier, and more difficult to handle and install than unshielded cable, this is not the case with CAT6A F/UTP cable. It is actually easier to handle, requires less space to maintain proper bend radius, and uses smaller conduits, cable trays, and pathways. CAT6A UTP has a larger outside diameter than CAT6A F/UTP cable. This creates a great difference in the fill rate of cabling pathways. An increase in the outside diameter of 0.1", from 0.25" to 0.35" for example, represents a 21% increase in fill volume. In general, CAT6A F/UTP provides a minimum of 35% more fill capacity than CAT6A UTP. In addition, innovations in connector technology have made terminating CAT6A F/UTP actually easier than terminating bulkier CAT6A UTP.

Category 7 (CAT7) –Class F was published in 2002 by the ISO/IEC. It is not a TIA recognized standard and TIA plans to skip over it.

Category 7 specifies minimum performance standards for fully shielded cable (individually shielded pairs surrounded by an overall shield) transmitting data at rates up to 600 MHz. It comes with one of two connector styles: the standard RJ plug and a non-RJ-style plug and socket interface specified in IEC 61076-2-104:2.

Category 7a (CAT7a) –Class Fa (Amendment 1 and 2 to ISO/IEC 11801, 2nd Ed.) is a fully shielded cable that extends frequency from 600 MHz to 1000 MHz.

Category 8 – The TIA decided to skip Category 7 and 7A and go to Category 8. The TR-42.7 subcommittee is establishing specs for a 40-Gbps twisted-pair solution with a 2-GHz frequency. The proposed standard is for use in a two-point channel in a data center at 30 meters. It is expected to be ratified in February 2016. The TR-42.7 subcommittee is also incorporating ISO/IEC Class II cabling performance criteria into the standard. It is expected to be called TIA-568-C.2-1. The difference between Class I and Class II is that Class II allows for three different styles of connectors that are not compatible with one another or with the RJ-45 connector. Class I uses an RJ-45 connector and is backward compatible with components up to Category 6A. collapse


Black Box Explains...What to look for in a channel solution.


Channel solution. You hear the term a lot these days to describe complete copper or fiber cabling systems. But what exactly is a channel solution and what are its benefits?... more/see it now

A definition.
A channel solution is a cabling system from the data center to the desktop where every cable, jack, and patch panel is designed to work together and give you consistent end-to-end performance when compared with the EIA/TIA requirements.

Its benefits.
A channel solution is beneficial because you have some assurance that your cabling components will perform as specified. Without that assurance, one part may not be doing its job, so your entire system may not be performing up to standard, which is a problem — especially if you rely on bandwidth-heavy links for video and voice.

What to look for.
There are a lot of channel solutions advertised on the Internet and elsewhere. So what exactly should you be looking for?

For one, make sure it’s a fully tested, guaranteed channel solution. The facts show an inferior cabling system can cause up to 70 percent of network downtime — even though it usually represents only 5 percent of an initial network investment. So don’t risk widespread failure by skimping on a system that doesn’t offer guaranteed channel performance. You need to make sure the products are engineered to meet or go beyond the key measurements for CAT5e or CAT6 performance.

And, sure, they may be designed to work together, but does the supplier absolutely guarantee how well they perform as part of a channel — end to end? Don’t just rely on what the supplier says. They may claim their products meet CAT5e or CAT6 requirements, but the proof is in the performance. Start by asking if the channel solution is independently tested and certified by a reputable third party. There are a lot of suppliers out there who don’t have the trademarked ETL approval logo, for example.

What ETL Verified means.
The ETL logo certifies that a channel solution has been found to be in compliance with recognized standards. To ensure consistent top quality, Black Box participates in independent third-party testing by InterTek Testing Services/ETL Semko, Inc. Once a quarter, an Intertek inspector visits Black Box and randomly selects cable and cabling products for testing.

The GigaTrue® CAT6 and GigaBase® CAT5e Solid Bulk Cable are ETL Verified at the component level to verify that they conform to the applicable industry standards. The GigaTrue® CAT6 and GigaBase® CAT5e Channels, consisting of bulk cable, patch cable, jacks, patch panels, and wiring blocks, are tested and verified according to industry standards in a LAN environment under InterTek’s Cabling System Channel Verification Program. For the latest test results, contact our FREE Tech Support. collapse


Black Box Explains...Loose-tube vs. tight-buffered fiber optic cable.

There are two styles of fiber optic cable construction: loose tube and tight buffered. Both contain some type of strengthening member, such as aramid yarn, stainless steel wire strands, or... more/see it noweven gel-filled sleeves. But each is designed for very different environments.

Loose tube cables, the older of the two cable types, are specifically designed for harsh outdoor environments. They protect the fiber core, cladding, and coating by enclosing everything within semi-rigid protective sleeves or tubes. In loose-tube cables that hold more than one optical fiber, each individually sleeved core is bundled loosely within an all-encompassing outer jacket.

Many loose-tube cables also have a water-resistant gel that surrounds the fibers. This gel helps protect them from moisture, so the cables are great for harsh, high-humidity environments where water or condensation can be a problem. The gel-filled tubes can expand and contract with temperature changes, too.

But gel-filled loose-tube cables are not the best choice when cable needs to be submerged or where it’s routed around multiple bends. Excess cable strain can force fibers to emerge from the gel.

Tight-buffered cables, in contrast, are optimized for indoor applications. Because they’re sturdier than loose-tube cables, they’re best suited for moderate-length LAN/WAN connections, long indoor runs, and even direct burial. Tight-buffered cables are also recommended for underwater applications.

Instead of a gel layer or sleeve to protect the fiber core, tight-buffered cables use a two-layer coating. One is plastic; the other is waterproof acrylate. The acrylate coating keeps moisture away from the cable, like the gel-filled sleeves do for loose-tube cables. But this acrylate layer is bound tightly to the plastic fiber layer, so the core is never exposed (as it can be with gel-filled cables) when the cable is bent or compressed underwater.

Tight-buffered cables are also easier to install because there’s no messy gel to clean up and they don’t require a fan-out kit for splicing or termination. You can crimp connectors directly to each fiber.

Want the best of both worlds? Try a hybrid, breakout-style fiber optic cable, which combines tight-buffered cables within a loose-tube housing. collapse


Black Box Explains…CAT6A UTP vs. F/UTP.

CAT6A is currently the cable of choice for future-proofing cabling installations and for 10-GbE networks.

There are two types of CAT6A cable, unshielded (UTP) and shielded (F/UTP). F/UTP denotes foiled/unshielded... more/see it nowtwisted pair and consists of four unshielded twisted pairs encased in an overall foil shield. This is not to be confused with an S/FTP (screened/foiled twisted pair) cable, which has four individually shielded twisted pairs encased in an overall braided shield.

CAT6A UTP
CAT6A UTP is constructed in a certain way to help eliminate crosstalk and ANEXT. (ANEXT is the measurement of the signal coupling between wire pairs in different and adjacent cables.) This includes larger conductors (23 AWG minimum), tighter twists, an extra internal airspace, an internal separator between the pairs, and a thicker outer jacket. These features also increase the outer diameter of the cable, typically to .35 inches in diameter, up from .25 inches for CAT6 cable. This increased diameter creates a greater distance between pairs in adjacent links, thus reducing the between-channel signal coupling. But CAT6A UTP cable is still affected by ANEXT.

According to the standards, ANEXT can be improved by laying CAT6A UTP cable loosely in pathways and raceways with space between the cables. This contrasts to the tightly bundled runs of CAT6/5e cable we are used to. The tight bundles present a worst-case scenario of six cables around one, thus the center cable would be adversely affected by ANEXT. Testing for ANEXT is a complex and time-consuming process where all possible wire-pair combinations are checked. It can take up to 50 minutes to test one link in a bundle of 24 CAT6A UTP cables.

CAT6A F/UTP
CAT6A F/UTP denotes foiled/unshielded twisted pairs and consists of four unshielded twisted pairs encased in an overall foil shield. ANEXT, and the time needed to test for it, can be greatly reduced, if not eliminated completely, by using CAT6A F/UTP. The foil shield acts as a barrier preventing external EMI/RFI from coupling onto the twisted pairs. It also prevents data signals from leaking out of the cable, making the cable more difficult to tap and better for secure installations. Studies also have shown that CAT6A F/UTP cable provides significantly more headroom (as much as 20 dB) than CAT6A UTP in 10-GbE over copper systems.

Bigger isn't always better.
CAT6A UTP cable has an overall allowable diameter of 0.354 inches. CAT6A F/UTP cable has an average outside diameter of 0.265–0.30 inches. That’s smaller than the smallest CAT6A UTP cable. An increase in the outside diameter (O.D.) of 0.1 inch, from 0.25 inches to 0.35 inches for example, represents a 21% increase in fill volume. In general, CAT6A F/UTP cable provides a minimum of 35% more fill capacity that CAT6A UTP cable.

Also because of its large diameter, CAT6A UTP requires a larger bend radius, more pathways, less dense patch panel connections, and extensive ANEXT testing.

CAT6A F/UTP cable is actually easier to handle, requires less bend radius, and uses smaller pathways. In addition, innovations in connector technology has made terminating CAT6A F/UTP cable simpler. In terms of grounding, the requirements for both UTP and F/UTP cable fall under TIA/EIA J-STD-607-A Commercial Building Grounding (Earthing) and Bonding Requirements for Telecommunications.

The advantages of CAT6A F/UTP vs. UTP
In summary, there are a number of advantages of using CAT6A F/UTP over CAT6A UTP in 10-GbE networks.

1. Shielding eliminates ANEXT and EMI/RFI problems and testing.
2. Data line security is enhanced because of shielding.
3. Lighter, slimmer cable provides higher port density.
4. Smaller outside diameter cable is easier to handle and reduces installation costs.
5. Shielded cable uses less space in conduits.

For more information, see the CAT6A F/UTP vs. UTP: What You Need to Know white paper in the Resources section at blackbox.com. collapse


Black Box Explains...Fiber optic cable construction.

Fiber optic cable consists of a core, cladding, coating, strengthening fibers, and cable jacket.

Core
This is the physical medium that transports optical data signals from an attached light source to... more/see it nowa receiving device. The core is a single continuous strand of glass or plastic that’s measured (in microns) by the size of its outer diameter. The larger the core, the more light the cable can carry.

All fiber optic cable is sized according to its core’s outer diameter.

The three multimode sizes most commonly available are 50, 62.5, and 100 microns. Single-mode cores are generally less than 9 microns.

Cladding
This is a thin layer that surrounds the fiber core and serves as a boundary that contains the light waves and causes the refraction, enabling data to travel throughout the length of the fiber segment.

Coating
This is a layer of plastic that surrounds the core and cladding to reinforce the fiber core, help absorb shocks, and provide extra protection against excessive cable bends. These buffer coatings are measured in microns (µ) and can range from 250 to 900 microns.

Strengthening fibers
These components help protect the core against crushing forces and excessive tension during installation.

The materials can range from Kevlar® to wire strands to gel-filled sleeves.

Cable jacket
This is the outer layer of any cable. Most fiber optic cables have an orange jacket, although some types can have black or yellow jackets. collapse


Black Box Explains... Baseband, broadband, and carrierband transmissions.

Depending on the environment and how the electrical signal is sent over the cable, coax can be used for three types of transmissions.

Baseband transmissions use the entire communication channel capacity... more/see it nowto transmit a single data signal. Many LANs employ Thin coax for baseband signaling.

Broadband transmissions use different frequencies to carry several analog signals simultaneously. Each signal can for be a different type of information—data, voice, even video. Broadband transmissions over coax employ either one or two cables. With single-cable coax wiring, frequencies are split into individual channels for each station; some channels are allocated for bidirectional communication. Dual-cable coax wiring uses one cable for sending and one cable for receiving data, each with multiple channels. Broadband transmissions are ideal for long distances. Thick coax is often used for broadband transmissions.

Unlike broadband transmissions, carrierband transmissions can only use one information channel. Carrierband is best suited for the horizontal subsystems (subnetworks) in industrial settings. Many LANs use Thin coax for carrierband signaling. collapse


Black Box Explains…Component vs. channel testing.

When using a Category 6 system, the full specification includes the testing of each part individually and in an end-to-end-channel. Because CAT6 is an open standard, products from different vendors... more/see it nowshould work together.

Channel testing includes patch cable, bulk cable, jacks, patch panels, etc. These tests cover a number of measurements, including: attenuation, NEXT, PS-NEXT, EL-FEXT, ACR, PS-ACR, EL-FEXT, PS-ELFEXT, and Return Loss. Products that are tested together should work together as specified. In theory, products from all manufacturers are interchangeable. But, if products from different manufacturers are inserted in a channel, end-to-end CAT6 performance may be compromised.

Component testing, on the other hand, is much stricter even though only two characteristics are measured: crosstalk and return loss. Although all CAT6 products should be interchangeable, products labeled as component are guaranteed to perform to a CAT6 level in a channel with products from different manufacturers.

For more information on cable, channel, and component specs, see below.

Buyer’s Guide: CAT5e vs. CAT6 Cable

Standard — CAT5e: TIA-568-B.2; CAT6: TIA-568-B.2-1

Frequency — CAT5e: 100 MHz; CAT6: 250 MHz

Attenuation (maximum at 100 MHz) —
Cable: CAT5e: 22 dB; CAT6: 19.8 dB
Connector: CAT5e: 0.4 dB; CAT6: 0.2 dB
Channel: CAT5e: 24.0 dB; CAT6: 21.3 dB

NEXT (minimum at 100 MHz) —
Cable: CAT5e: 35.3 dB; CAT6: 44.3 dB
Connector: CAT5e: 43.0 dB; CAT6: 54.0 dB
Channel: CAT5e: 30.1 dB; CAT6: 39.9 dB

PS-NEXT (minimum at 100 MHz) — 32.3 dB 42.3 dB

EL-FEXT (minimum at 100 MHz) —
Cable: CAT5e: 23.8 dB; CAT6: 27.8 dB
Connector: CAT5e: 35.1 dB; CAT6: 43.1 dB
Channel: CAT5e: 17.4 dB; CAT6: 23.3 dB

PS-ELFEXT (minimum at 100 MHz) — CAT5e: 20.8 dB; CAT6: 24.8 dB

Return Loss (minimum at 100 MHz) —
Cable: CAT5e: 20.1 dB; CAT6: 20.1 dB
Connector: CAT5e: 20.0 dB: CAT6: 24.0 dB
Channel: CAT5e: 10.0 dB; CAT6: 12.0 dB

Characteristic Impedance — Both: 100 ohms ± 15%

Delay Skew (maximum per 100 m) — Both: 45 ns

NOTE: In Attenuation testing, the lower the number, the better. In NEXT, EL-FEXT, and Return Loss testing, the higher the number, the better. collapse


Black Box Explains...DS-3 and DS-4

Digital signal (DS) speeds are used to classify the capacities of lines and trunks as designated by the Trunk (T) carrier systems. The most well-known T carrier system is the... more/see it nowNorth American T1 standard, which was originally designed to transmit digitized voice signals at 1.544 Mbps (DS-1). T carrier systems now carry digital data as well as voice transmissions.

DS-3 lines offer the functional equivalent of 28 T1 channels, operating at 44.736 Mbps (commonly rounded up to 45 Mbps). These lines handle up to 672 voice conversations and are used in high-speed interconnect and DS cross-connect (DSX) applications.

DS-4 offers 274.176 Mbps transmission—the same as 4032 standard voice channels—and has 168 times the capacity of T1. This performance level is generally used for carrier backbone networks.

Products offering DS-3 and DS-4 functionality comply with T3 and T4 standards, respectively, and with Bellcore GR-139-CORE specifications. collapse


Black Box Explains...Upgrading from VGA to DVI video.

Many new PCs no longer have traditional Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) computer monitors with a VGA interface. The latest high-end computers have Digital Flat Panels (DFPs) with a Digital Visual... more/see it nowInterface (DVI). Although most computers still have traditional monitors, the newer DFPs are coming on strong because flat-panel displays are not only slimmer and more attractive on the desktop, but they’re also capable of providing a much sharper, clearer image than a traditional CRT monitor.

The VGA interface was developed to support traditional CRT monitors. The DVI interface, on the other hand, is designed specifically for digital displays and supports the high resolution, the sharper image detail, and the brighter and truer colors achieved with DFPs.

Most flat-panel displays can be connected to a VGA interface, even though using this interface results in inferior video quality. VGA simply can’t support the image quality offered by a high-end digital monitor. Sadly, because a VGA connection is possible, many computer users connect their DFPs to VGA and never experience the stunning clarity their flat-panel monitors can provide.

It’s important to remember that for your new DFP display to work at its best, it must be connected to a DVI video interface. You should upgrade the video card in your PC when you buy your new video monitor. Your KVM switches should also support DVI if you plan to use them with DFPs. collapse


Black Box Explains…OM3 and OM4.

There are different categories of graded-index multimode fiber optic cable. The ISO/IEC 11801 Ed 2.1:2009 standard specifies categories OM1, OM2, and OM3. The TIA/EIA recognizes OM1, OM2, OM3, and OM4.... more/see it nowThe TIA/EIA ratified OM4 in August 2009 (TIA/EIA 492-AAAD). The IEEE ratified OM4 (802.ba) in June 2010.

OM1 specifies 62.5-micron cable and OM2 specifies 50-micron cable. These are commonly used in premises applications supporting Ethernet rates of 10 Mbps to 1 Gbps. They are also typically used with LED transmitters. OM1 and OM2 cable are not suitable though for today's higher-speed networks.

OM3 and OM4 are both laser-optimized multimode fiber (LOMMF) and were developed to accommodate faster networks such as 10, 40, and 100 Gbps. Both are designed for use with 850-nm VCSELS (vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers) and have aqua sheaths.

OM3 specifies an 850-nm laser-optimized 50-micron cable with a effective modal bandwidth (EMB) of 2000 MHz/km. It can support 10-Gbps link distances up to 300 meters. OM4 specifies a high-bandwidth 850-nm laser-optimized 50-micron cable an effective modal bandwidth of 4700 MHz/km. It can support 10-Gbps link distances of 550 meters. 100-Gbps distances are 100 meters and 150 meters, respectively. Both rival single-mode fiber in performance while being significantly less expensive to implement.

OM1 and 2 are made with a different process than OM3 and 4. Non-laser-optimized fiber cable is made with a small defect in the core, called an index depression. LED light sources are commonly used with these cables.

OM3 and 4 are manufactured without the center defect. As networks migrated to higher speeds, VCSELS became more commonly used rather than LEDs, which have a maximum modulation rate of 622 Mbps. Because of that, LEDs can’t be turned on and off fast enough to support higher-speed applications. VCSELS provided the speed, but unfortunately when used with older OM1 and 2 cables, required mode-conditioning launch cables. Thus manufacturers changed the production process to eliminate the center defect and enable OM3 and OM4 cables to be used directly with the VCSELS. OM3/OM4 Comparison
850 nm High Performance EMB (MHz/km)

OM3: 2000

OM4: 4700


850-nm Ethernet Distance
1-GbE
OM3: 1000 m

OM4: 1000 m


10-GbE
OM3: 300 m

OM4: 550 m


40-GbE
OM3: 100 m

OM4: 150 m


100-GbE
OM3: 100 m

OM4: 150 m

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