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What network cabling should I use for my new home?

I am just about to network cable my new home and I wanted to know what would be the best cabling to use.

I plan to have home distribution of music, movies (H264, VOB, HD) photos etc, as well as using VOIP. Furthermore I am planning to automate lighting (using KNX modules) with the aim of integrating other house utilities in the future.

TV will be IP TV (the new Sony TVs or equivalent) as well as aerial.

My understanding at the moment is that we've got cat 5e, Cat 6, Cat 6a and Cat 7 to choose from. Further research has shown really that the choice is going to be between Cat 5e or Cat 6a, Cat 6 being largely redundant because of the new Cat 6a standard. I don't know too much about Cat 7...

What is the best cabling solution for a domestic home? And I assume the choice criteria is about back compatibility with present devices as well as future longevity for rapid technological advancements (3D, HD TV etc).

The main computers being used are Macs, though I do use PC for working from the home office.
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Home wiring has become almost redundant in view of high speed wireless capabilities of the wireless N standard. I don't think I would go any further that to run a cable to allow a wireless access point on each floor. Cat 6a should be good enough.

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Of course the argument for wireless is a valid and good one. However, wireless does have it's limitations, and as yet, none of the N standard routers will offer the same data exchange rate given by Cat 6a. And with the advent of IP TV, I would imagine a wireless connection wouldn't be good enough to support HD...

I have always been told, that wireless serves a home network well, but if you are building a house, always put in hard physical cables. They can't be beaten.

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I just went through this decision process in the construction of our new home.  I also wanted something with enough bandwidth to handle anything I would want to toss at it (video, file sharing, music streaming).  At the same time of course, cost was a major factor and after reveiwing all of the cabling options, I selected Cat6 over Cat5e and Cat6a.  

Cat6a as shown to me was physically larger and much more expensive in terms of running the actual cable, but also for the terminations and other miscellaneous connections.  I couldn't justify the extra expense of the nominal gains of Cat6a vs Cat6.  Cat6 is rated for gigabit connections and beyond which is more than adequate for my needs.

Of course Cat5e just didn't provide the bandwidth that Cat6 does and the price difference was negligible.

With everything in place and construction complete, I am very satisfied with my choice and feel that I won't need to worry about the network cabling.
I like wireless but will choose a cable anytime it is available.  For new construction, run cable.   I would be careful that you do not over-spend on cable for "future need".  You will be better served to install extra conduits to at least sections of your house.   Chance are till you would need some type of new wonder cable, you will have rearranged the room and the jacks are not in the right place anyhow.
For business when I run cable I no longer run separate cables and patch panels for phones and network.  Running all the cables to one patch panel allows you to use them for any purpose you choose.

I am not familiar with the IP TV's but you may want to consider some type of lightning protection on at least some of the Ethernet connections.  My experience is the TV's are lightning magnets.

With as many Ethernet devices you will have in your house a managed switch could be a good investment.  HP Procurve makes many affordable models with full management.  In addition HP has lifetime warranty and free software update.   Because of the warranty, purchasing used equipment carries little risk.

My final advice is a repeat.   Spend your money making it easier to run new cable later (access holes, conduits) rather than trying to put in future proof cable.  
>Home wiring has become almost redundant in view of high speed wireless capabilities

Sure...if all you do is surf the web on a couple of laptops.

Look at a small home:  2 desktops, 2 laptops, 2 DVRs, VoIP ATA, 2 servers, 1 video server, feed to unattached garage, security cameras.

No wireless setup could handle this.  The personal computers and printers may be OK, but to connect everything else, you need physical cable.

I do my own work, running Cat5e for all connections: network, phone/DSL.  Coax for the DVRs and cameras.

Conduit would be the smartest.  Smurf tube run through the studs will give you the ability to pull new cable in the future.  Make sure they leave at least one pull string (preferably two) in the tube.  It's cheap...you can get a bucket of the stuff, which is over a mile long for 20 bucks.

If you're in wood studs, make sure to drill the holes big enough (1-1.25") and hammer a plate over it to protect the cable.  Make the hole too small and the wires are bound too tightly...not a good thing for longevity or easy pulling of a replacement cable.

My house is 60 years old, so I'm not willing to bust open plaster walls to run conduit.  Gotta work with what you've got.

At each TV location I've got a 6-position keystone plate.  Two RF-45 receptacles (network) one or two coax, and the rest left blank for future use.  I didn't re-use any cabling at all.  Not worth the wasted time of troubleshooting.  Run it all new (home run to one location...no daisy-chaining) then test with a Fluke meter.

Best to terminate everything and test it.  Once the contractor walks off the site, it's difficult to get them back (for free).  Some think that low-voltage cabling is "best effort", so they don't care if you can run GigE over it, or if you're stuck with 10/100 or POTS only.

Pull cable is cheap.  Leave lots of it behind.  And don't hide any junctions...home run everything cleanly.  Otherwise, you'll never be able to run new cable in the future, which is a waste of the conduit.

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short and sweet answer , Cat6 will do exactly what you want to do , its gigabit transfer standardized cabling and should be all you''ll ever need in a home environment. All devices you've mentioned would be able to use this cabling no problem at all.

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Thanks everybody for your answers: from this it looks like the best thing to do is Cat 6, with a repeat option for the future, sensible conduit and plenty of new cable/outlets.

By the way Aleghart: could you just elaborate on your penultimate paragraph: are you saying I should really be protecting the Cat 6 with something if it's run alongside the electrics?

> Best to terminate everything and test it.  Once the contractor walks off the site, it's difficult to get them back (for free).  Some think that low-voltage cabling is "best effort", so they don't care if you can run GigE over it, or if you're stuck with 10/100 or POTS only.

>are you saying I should really be protecting the Cat 6 with something if it's run alongside the electrics?

No.  But that should be standard.  To some admins and wiring guys, even minimum code is not enough because it allows installer to run unshielded low-voltage wires alongside and pass through the same holes as mains voltage (also unshielded).

New residential construction should run through low-voltage conduit (sometimes called Smurf tube).  It's flexible plastic, and doesn't shield anything.  But, it ensures no contact between wires, and it's size prevents installers from running it through the same holes as the mains wires.  Also, if sized appropriately, there will be room leftover to leave a pull cable or two so you can add more cable later.

What I was saying is that part of the wiring installation should be to terminate _all_ cable ends and connections.  Then test them.  No network cables should be without an RJ-45 plug end.  No bare phone wires.  No bare coax.  No splitter with empty positions...put on the proper terminator.

All cables should be tested with at least a cable qualifier.  Certifiers cost more.  A qualifier like the Fluke CableIQ is a big step above the cheap $15 continuity tester.  If a low-voltage wiring contractor doesn't have one, ask them why.  They spend thousands of dollars in tools and training...but nothing to verify what they're doing?  That's like a plumber walking away without ever having turned on the water after a repair.  It shouldn't happen.

In larger crews you'll have more separations of duties.  Lower-wage workers will do the labor-intensive work like drilling. pulling wire, patching, etc.  Then someone else will do the termination and testing.

In a large installation (100+ drops) you may have one or two cables that don't test 100%.  It's up to you and your contractor to reach an agreement ahead of time what the resolution is.  In a home with conduit, they should be able to pull new cable to replace the bad.  Where there's no conduit, and the walls are closed up, sometimes you have to leave the wire in place.  That's why people will pull two at a time.  It's a little wasteful.  That's why conduit with extra space and a pull string left behind are a good alternative.  String is cheap.
Something like the CableIQ can tell you where the problem is in the wire.

Example 1:  Network connection was intermittently dropping from one jack.  Tester showed two wires shorting 3 feet from the wall side.  This lined up with the first major turn in the conduit underneath the concrete slab.  Likely too much stress when pulled, but all other cables in that conduit tested OK.  So, we abandoned the cable in place, tagged it at both ends with exactly which 2 wires were shorted.  In the future it could be used for 10/100 or for telephone service.  Cable was a redundant pull (we pulled one extra for every 4), so I had no problem with contractor.  It was one run out of 100+ in a short installation.  Caught this near the end of installation, but after the walls were closed up.  No room to run new cable in the conduit.

Example 2:  Network connection was working fine for weeks, then suddenly stopped working.  Tester showed two wires shorted 8 feet from wall jack.  This lined up with the top of the wall where contractor had just screwed something into the drywall for another installation.  This also lined up with the end of the metal conduit and the start of bare wire runs.  Likely cause was a drywall screw nicking the cable, or the cable dragged on the end of unprotected conduit.  Walls were closed up, and the space was occupied.  So, the cable was tagged at both ends with the bad wire colors.  Abandoned in place.  Requested discount from contractor.

Example 3:  Network cable & coax added for HDTV locations.  Coax tested intermittently bad as the cable ends were moved.  Network cables not terminated at network closet patch panel.  Contractor came back to terminate network cables and re-terminate coax.  I tested on the spot.

Without a good tester, most installer would just keep snipping off the ends and re-terminating.  Waste of money and time when you don't know what the problem is.

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Thanks Aleghart - very information, constructive and helpful