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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…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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Black Box Explains...Augmented Category 6 (CAT6A).


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... more/see it nowCAT6 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 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.

There are two types of CAT6a cable, UTP and F/UTP.

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Black Box Explains...PC, UPC, and APC fiber connectors.

Fiber optic cables have different types of mechanical connections. The type of connection determines the quality of the fiber optic lightwave transmission. The different types we’ll discuss here are the... more/see it nowflat-surface, Physical Contact (PC), Ultra Physical Contact (UPC), and Angled Physical Contact (APC).

The original fiber connector is a flat-surface connection, or a flat connector. When mated, an air gap naturally forms between the two surfaces from small imperfections in the flat surfaces. The back reflection in flat connectors is about -14 dB or roughly 4%.

As technology progresses, connections improve. The most common connection now is the PC connector. Physical Contact connectors are just that—the end faces and fibers of two cables actually touch each other when mated.

In the PC connector, the two fibers meet, as they do with the flat connector, but the end faces are polished to be slightly curved or spherical. This eliminates the air gap and forces the fibers into contact. The back reflection is about -40 dB. This connector is used in most applications.

An improvement to the PC is the UPC connector. The end faces are given an extended polishing for a better surface finish. The back reflection is reduced even more to about -55 dB. These connectors are often used in digital, CATV, and telephony systems.

The latest technology is the APC connector. The end faces are still curved but are angled at an industry-standard eight degrees. This maintains a tight connection, and it reduces back reflection to about -70 dB. These connectors are preferred for CATV and analog systems.

PC and UPC connectors have reliable, low insertion losses. But their back reflection depends on the surface finish of the fiber. The finer the fiber grain structure, the lower the back reflection. And when PC and UPC connectors are continually mated and remated, back reflection degrades at a rate of about 4 to 6 dB every 100 matings for a PC connector. APC connector back reflection does not degrade with repeated matings. collapse


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...Coax connectors.

The BNC (Bayonet-Neill-Concelman) connector is the most commonly used coax connector. This large ”bayonet“ connector features a slotted outer conductor and an inner plastic dielectric, and it offers easy connection... more/see it nowand disconnection. After insertion, the plug is turned, tightening the pins in the socket. It is widely used in video and Radio Frequency (RF) applications up to 2.4 GHz. It is also common in 10BASE2 Ethernet networks, on cable interconnections, network cards, and test equipment.

The TNC connector is a threaded version of the BNC connector. It works in frequencies up to 12 GHz. It‘s commonly used in cellular telephone RF/antenna applications.

The N connector is a larger, threaded connector that was designed in the 1940s for military systems operating at less than 5 GHz. In the 1960s, improvements raised performance to 12 GHz. The connector features an internal gasket and is hand tightened. It is common on 2.4-GHz antennas.

The UHF connector looks like a coarse-threaded, big center-conductor version of the N connector. It was developed in the 1930s. It is suitable for use up to 200–300 MHz and generally offers nonconstant impedance.

The F connector is most often used in cable and satellite TV and antenna applications; and it performs well at high frequencies. The connector has a 3/8–32 coupling thread. Some F connectors are also available in a screw-on style.

The SMA (Subminiature A) connector is one of the most common RF/microwave connectors. This small, threaded connector is used on small cables that won’t be connected and disconnected often. It’s designed for use to 12.4 GHz, but works well at 18, and sometimes even up to 24 GHz. This connector is often used in avionics, radar, and microwave communications.

The SMC (Subminiature C) connector is a small, screw-on version of the SMA. It uses a 10–32 threaded interface and can be used in frequencies up to 10 GHz. This connector is used primarily in microwave environments.

The SMB (Subminiature B) connector is a small version of the SMC connector. It was developed in the 1960s and features a snap-on coupling for fast connections. It features a self-centering outer spring and overlapping dielectric. It is rated from 2–4 GHZ, but can possibly work up to 10 GHz.

The MCX (Micro Coax) connector is a coax RF connector developed in the 1980s. It has a snap-on interface and uses the same inner contact and insulator as the SMB connector but is 30% smaller. It can be used in broadband applications up to 6 GHz. collapse


Black Box Explains...Breakout-style cables.

With breakout- or fanout-style cables, the fibers are packaged individually. A breakout cable is basically several simplex cables bundled together in one jacket. Breakout cables are suitable for riser and... more/see it nowplenum applications, and conduit runs.

This differs from distribution-style cables where several tight-buffered fibers are bundled under the same jacket.

This design of the breakout cable adds strength to the cable, although that makes it larger and more expensive than distribution-style cables.

Because each fiber is individually reinforced, you can divide the cable into individual fiber lines. This enables quick connector termination, and eliminates the need for patch panels.

Breakout cable can also be more economical because it requires much less labor to terminate.

You may want to choose a cable that has more fibers than you actually need in case of breakage during termination or for future expansion. collapse


Black Box Explains… Category 7/Class F.


Category 7/Class F (ISO/IEC 11801:2002) specifies a frequency range of 1–600 MHz over 100 meters of fully shielded twisted-pair cabling. It encompasses four individually shielded pairs inside an overall shield,... more/see it nowcalled Shielded/Foiled Twisted Pair (S/FTP) or Foiled/ Foiled Twisted Pair (F/FTP). There is a pending class Fa, based on the use of S/FTP cable to 1000 MHz. It can support 10GBASE-T transmissions.

With both types of cable, each twisted pair is enclosed in foil. In S/FTP cable, all four pairs are encased in an overall metal braid. In F/FTP, the four pairs are encased in foil.

Category 7/Class F cable can be terminated with two interface designs as specified in IEC 6063-7-7 and IEC 61076-3-104. One is an RJ-45 compatible GG-45 connector. The other is the more common TERA connector, which was launched in 1999.

Category 7/Class F is backwards compatible with traditional CAT6 and CAT5 cable, but it has far more stringent specifications for crosstalk and system noise. The fully shielded cable virtually eliminates crosstalk between the pairs. In addition, the cable is noise resistant, which makes the Category 7/Class F systems ideal for high EMI areas, such as industrial and medical imaging facilities.
Category 7/Class F cable can also increase security by preventing the emission of data signals from the cable to nearby areas. collapse


Black Box Explains...SCSI Ultra2 and LVD (Low-Voltage Differential).

Small Computer Systems Interface (SCSI), pronounced “scuzzy,” has been the dominant technology used to connect computers and high-speed peripherals since the 1980s. SCSI technology is constantly evolving to accommodate increased... more/see it nowbandwidth needs. One of the more recent developments is Ultra2 SCSI.

Because Ultra2 SCSI is backward compatible, it works with all legacy equipment. Ultra2 doubles the possible bandwidth on the bus from 40 to 80 MBps! Just as importantly, Ultra2 supports distances up to 12 meters (39.3 ft.) for a multiple-device configuration. Ultra2 uses Low-voltage Differential (LVD) techniques to transfer data at faster rates with fewer errors. Don’t confuse Ultra2 with LVD. Ultra2 is a data-transfer method; LVD is the signaling technique used to transfer the data.

Cables are very important when designing or upgrading a system to take advantage of Ultra2 SCSI. Cables and connectors must be of high quality and they should come from a reputable manufacturer to prevent crosstalk and minimize signal radiation. BLACK BOX® Ultra2 LVD cables are constructed of the finest-quality components to provide your system with the maximum protection and highest possible data-transfer rates. collapse


Black Box Explains... Speaker wire gauge.

Wire gauge (often shown as AWG, for American Wire Gauge) is a measure of the thickness of the wire. The more a wire is drawn or sized, the smaller its... more/see it nowdiameter will be. The lower the wire gauge, the thicker the wire.

For example, a 24 AWG wire is thinner than a 14 AWG wire. A lower AWG means longer transmission distance and better integrity. As a rule of thumb, power loss decreases as the wire size increases.

When it comes to choosing speaker cable, consider a few factors: distance, the type of system and amplifier you have, the frequencies of the signals being handled, and any specifications that the speaker manufacturer recommends.

For most home applications where you simply need to run cable from your stereo to speakers in the same room—or even behind the walls to other rooms—16 AWG cable is usually fine.

If you’re considering runs of more than 40 feet (12.1 m), consider using 14 AWG or even 12 AWG cable. They both offer better transmission and less resistance over longer distances. You should probably choose 12 AWG cable for high-end audio systems with higher power output or for low-frequency subwoofers. As a rule of thumb, power loss decreases as the wire size increases.

To terminate your cable, choose gold connectors. Because gold resists oxidation over time, gold connectors wear better and offer better peformance than other connectors do. collapse

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