Twisted pair cabling comes in two varieties: shielded and unshielded. Unshielded twisted pair (UTP) is the most popular and is generally the best option for school networks.
Unshielded Twisted Pair
The quality of UTP may vary from telephone-grade wire to extremely high-speed cable. The cable has four pairs of wires inside the jacket. Each pair is twisted with a different number of twists per inch to help eliminate interference from adjacent pairs and other electrical devices. The tighter the twisting, the higher the supported transmission rate and the greater the cost per foot. The EIA/TIA (Electronic Industry Association/Telecommunication Industry Association) has established standards of UTP and rated six categories of wire (additional categories are emerging).
Categories of Unshielded Twisted Pair
Unshielded Twisted Pair Connector
The standard connector for unshielded twisted pair cabling is an RJ-45 connector. This is a plastic connector that looks like a large telephone-style connector. A slot allows the RJ-45 to be inserted only one way. RJ stands for Registered Jack, implying that the connector follows a standard borrowed from the telephone industry. This standard designates which wire goes with each pin inside the connector.
Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) Cable
Although UTP cable is the least expensive cable, it may be susceptible to radio and electrical frequency interference (it should not be too close to electric motors, fluorescent lights, etc.). If you must place cable in environments with lots of potential interference, or if you must place cable in extremely sensitive environments that may be susceptible to the electrical current in the UTP, shielded twisted pair may be the solution. Shielded cables can also help to extend the maximum distance of the cables.
Shielded twisted pair cable is available in three different configurations:
Each pair of wires is individually shielded with foil.
There is a foil or braid shield inside the jacket covering all wires (as a group).
There is a shield around each individual pair, as well as around the entire group of wires (referred to as double shield twisted pair).
Coaxial cable is an early version of the way computers were connected to a network and it worked well. It is the cable in cable TV. This cabling has a single copper conductor at its center. It allows higher data transmission rates over long distances.
A plastic layer provides insulation between the center conductor and a braided metal shield. The outer shield is used as an electrical ground that simultaneously protects the inner core from the interference.
Coaxial cable can transmit up to 10Mbps for a distance of up to 500 meters. The main drawback of this type of cable is its inflexibility and low security, but it requires little maintenance and its simple to install. It also provides better resistance to electrical noise over long distance, and its electronic support components are affordable.
Fiber Optic Cable
Fiber optic cabling consists of a center glass core surrounded by several layers of protective materials. It transmits light rather than electronic signals eliminating the problem of electrical interference. This makes it ideal for certain environments that contain a large amount of electrical interference. It has also made it the standard for connecting networks between buildings, due to its immunity to the effects of moisture and lighting.
Fiber optic cable has the ability to transmit signals over much longer distances than coaxial and twisted pair. It also has the capability to carry information at vastly greater speeds. This capacity broadens communication possibilities to include services such as video conferencing and interactive services. The cost of fiber optic cabling is comparable to copper cabling; however, it is more difficult to install and modify. 10BaseF refers to the specifications for fiber optic cable carrying Ethernet signals.
The center core of fiber cables is made from glass or plastic fibers. A plastic coating then cushions the fiber center, and Kevlar fibers help to strengthen the cables and prevent breakage. The outer insulating jacket made of Teflon or PVC.
There are two common types of fiber cables -- single mode and multimode. Multimode cable has a larger diameter; however, both cables provide high bandwidth at high speeds. Single mode can provide more distance, but it is more expensive.