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Copper Cabling – Still a Viable, Cost-Effective Solution for 10 GbE Networks

Shibu Vahid, Head of Technical Operations, R&M Middle East, Turkey & Africa
Shibu Vahid, Head of Technical Operations, R&M Middle East, Turkey & Africa

Higher performance networks and 10 Gigabit ethernet is rapidly becoming a standard across the Middle East region, says Shibu Vahid, Head of Technical Operations, R&M Middle East, Turkey & Africa

Across the Middle East, organisations are witnessing a staggering growth of video, network-based business, network-attached devices, cloud computing, and virtualisation in the data centre. All of this has brought about the need for higher performance networks and today 10 Gigabit ethernet (10 GbE) is rapidly becoming a standard across the region.

According to IDC, in Q3 2013, MEA region ethernet switch sales increased by almost 23 percent year-on-year, much above the global average of just 6.5 percent.

The constant demand for higher ethernet speeds has caused organisations to pay close attention to their structured cabling systems. Seen as the backbone of the network, the cabling system must be robust and reliable since unlike active components, it cannot be frequently replaced. And while the popularity of fibre optic cabling grows, a large number of organisations still opt for copper cabling. But can it meet the new requirements and demands? And if it can, what are the requirements of the copper cabling system.

Shielded or unshielded – this is always the first question asked when deciding on investing in a local data network or structured office cabling. Shielded copper cabling gives signal transmission reliable protection against interference; and is said to be more stable and secure. Unshielded copper cabling is easier to install, and is thus often more affordable which is why it is used all over the world.

When correctly installed, both technologies offer sufficient reserves for applications up to and including 1 Gigabit ethernet. That, at least, was the situation to date. But everything changes with the launch of 10 Gigabit ethernet to the workstation. Now, everyone is talking about sensitive high frequency technology up to 500 MHz. That is a quantum leap for data transmission and at the same time an incredible challenge for the passive infrastructure.

One-hundred-fold more sensitive cabling systems are constantly having to improve because of increasing transmission rates, higher frequencies and extremely fine potential differences. In comparison to 1 GbE, the interference sensibility when using 10 GbE increases one-hundred-fold. The physical properties of twisted-pair copper cabling are being tested to their limits. The concealed performance headroom that was implicit with 1 GbE no longer exists with 10 GbE. Cabling of class EA with  Cat. 6A components really has to fulfill all demands of the application for 10 GbE to work.

 The 10GBASE-T specification by IEEE, which is the standard for 10 GbE transmission over copper twisted pair, permits the use of both Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) and Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) copper cabling systems. And while organisations that place signal quality and system robustness at the top of their priority lists may be quick to eliminate UTP, new advances in unshielded cabling are once again making it a feasible choice.


Zero tolerance in cabling

When considering the robustness of a cabling system, interference sensibility is a key parameter to consider. Luckily, the problem of interference sensibility is easy to control with resolute cabling measures. But in real terms, that means: zero tolerance with the individual components, zero errors in installation. Absolute precision is required from everyone involved to prevent electromagnetic interference as far as possible and to ensure good signal quality.

When using 10 GbE, this particularly depends on preventing or reducing crosstalk (ANEXT). Crosstalk between neighbouring lines is a great danger for the fine, over-developed signals. Shielded cabling automatically curbs ANEXT as it is immune “by design” – with the right production and installation quality. With classic unshielded cabling, however, the distance between the individual components has to be increased as far as possible to be able to reduce ANEXT influence to an acceptable level. If you opt for 10 GbE-compatible class EA cabling, you have to choose the best solution possible in technological terms to ensure the LAN works reliably long term. After all, the investment should last 15 years and longer without error. If you only find out that the cabling does not actually give you the performance you had hoped for when you change from 1 GbE to 10 GbE, it is usually too late for corrective measures.

The specification of cabling in accordance with class EA as stipulated by ISO /IEC 11801 with connection technology in accordance with Cat. 6A as stipulated by IEC 60603-7-41 / 51 offers by far the best prerequisites for fulfilling the high demands of 10 GbE. In comparison with TIA requirements, this standard has stricter regulations on transmission parameters and is thus better equipped to cope with future challenges. Other criteria should also be taken into consideration during evaluation. Comprehensive quality control, process security, simple handling, extensive guarantees and low overall costs are just a few of the most important points in production selection.

UTP cables are lightweight and flexible and due to their versatility, reliability and relatively low costs, have been deployed by organisations all across the globe. Today, top cabling suppliers have developed high-performance class EA systems with IEC-compatible Cat. 6A components. Because of this, even with unshielded Cat. 6A systems, organisations can now safely deploy cost effective 10 Gigabit networks. Enterprises that chose the best solutions and ensure that they are installed into well-designed structured cabling systems can reap continue to reap the benefits of UTP for years to come.

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