Every business and homeowner wants the fastest internet speeds and most control over their network devices. Business owners willing to sacrifice the wireless internet’s convenience are reaping huge benefits from using low voltage wiring.
Low voltage wiring, also referred to as low voltage cabling or structured cabling, is a system of electrical network wires forming the foundation in which digital communication equipment functions. Commercial buildings and some homes use low voltage wiring to transmit data, use telephones, connect to WiFi via ethernet, and even connect video and audio systems.
Low Voltage Wiring Vs. Electrical Wiring
To understand how low voltage wiring works, you first have to compare it to standard electrical wiring. Most wall and cable outlets in the United States run 120V of electricity. On the other hand, low voltage wiring is designed to carry just 50V or less of electricity.
Even when discussing a low voltage system, the electrical power comes from the same place, through a building or home’s electric meter, and is fed to a main electrical panel. Power is drawn from a line-voltage 120V or 220V source, then is converted to the necessary voltage for the copper or fiber low voltage wires.
While electrical wires carry electrical transmission, low voltage wiring carries signal transmission. In other words, high voltage wires carry power (outlets, lights, switches) and low voltage cables carry signals and information with a minimal power capacity.
How Low Voltage Wiring Works In Businesses
Low voltage wiring systems in business settings work differently than in a home. Factors like multiple floors, more network devices, and extended floor plans make running low voltage wiring in businesses more demanding.
In commercial settings, low voltage wiring is referred to as “structured cabling”. Traditional point-to-point wiring cabling infrastructure runs cables directly to and from hardware that needs connectivity. This can lead to an inflexible mess of wires with little room for growth.
Structured cabling, on the other hand, uses distribution areas that provide flexible connections between equipment. Hardware ports are connected to a patch panel at the top of a server rack, then this patch panel is connected to another panel in the main distribution area.
Six main sub-system areas are generally found in every structured network wiring system. In larger projects, all six of these components will be present, but on smaller projects, they may be combined.
1. Entrance Facility or Incoming Services
This area is where the incoming services enter the building from the outside via a local service carrier or private network. A demarcation point for data and telephone cabling is created. This will go directly into the communications room in most setups.
2. Main Communications or Equipment Room
The communications room is where all the hardware like a broadband router, connection points, patch panels, equipment racks, main hardware and power supplies are housed. The main communications room is the central hub for communication services. This room should be environmentally controlled to ensure that it stays at an ideal temperature and humidity level.
3. Telecommunications Room or Separate Sub Cabinets
When a building is a large space or on several floors, there will be more than one telecommunications room or sub cabinets. Data cabling standards set the maximum copper data cable length as 90 meters, so the cabinet locations are designed to facilitate that.
Compared to the main communications room, the telecommunications room doesn’t house control technology. Comparatively, they house additional data switches and patch panels dedicated to the specific telecom room. Each floor can have a dedicated room, or a single room can serve several floors.
4. Backbone Cabling
In some designs, the main communications room provides the data cabling for one or multiple floors. Smaller installations may only have one comms room that all data cabling runs back to, requiring a further connection to the main communications room. This connection is done by backbone cabling, which are fiber or copper cables that structure the cabling into a star design.
5. Horizontal Data Cabling
Work areas are served by horizontal cabling that runs horizontally from a dedicated cabinet on the same floor. In cases where the horizontal cabling runs from a telecommunications room on a separate floor, the cabling isn’t necessarily run horizontally, but it still meets the 90 meters or less guideline.
The choice of horizontal cabling will depend on the needs of the work area. Types of cabling include Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, and speaker wire.
6. Work Area
Anywhere where work is carried out or that requires coverage is considered a work area. Desks, warehouse and storage facilities, kitchens, and meeting rooms are all examples of work areas. Work areas all have guidelines for cabling to and from them as well as guidelines to plan for future cabling considerations.
The type of termination points will depend on the location and uses for the work area. Types of termination points include floor boxes, grommets, and wall-mounted outlets.
How Low Voltage Wiring Works In Homes
Low voltage wiring is facilitated under an infrastructure called structured cabling. These wires are a collection of copper or fiber optic wiring that runs through walls, ceilings, and conduits connecting computers, telephones, security equipment, access points, and data networks. Low voltage wires are run through the walls and ceiling starting at a structured media enclosure and ending at various wall sockets or termination points.
These cable runs are called “home runs”, with cables in each room connecting to a central distribution box. You may have seen wall plates with terminations for ethernet cables instead of normal two and three-prong wall outlets. A structured cabling enclosure is where all of your low voltage cables run to and from.
The structured cabling enclosure, which provides voltage to the low voltage cables, will have a cable running to it from a demarcation point, usually outside of the house. Cable, internet, and telephone wires run from either a local transformer in the neighborhood or an electrical pole. From there, the wires run underground in the yard, through the demarcation point, and into the structured cabling enclosure.
Structured cabling enclosures are put in a central location in a home, usually the basement. They can also be found in places like the attic or a closet in a central location in the house.
From there, low voltage wiring will run from a patch panel inside of the enclosure to the given room and jack. Patch panels are used to terminate low voltage cables allowing you to label and manage the mass of cables.
How Low Voltage Wires Transfer Data
Have you ever looked at the pile of wires behind your computer or in your office’s data hub and wondered how it all works? It’s almost unbelievable that twisted metal wires can transfer the picture, audio, and data that powers our lives.
In reality, transferring data through a cable uses the same principle as conducting electricity through standard wiring. Data sent over ethernet cable is converted into binary code, a collection of 1s and 0s. One voltage represents 1s while the other 0s. 1s are also considered “high voltage” on the conductor, while 0s are considered “low voltage”. The receiving device will receive the binary coded data, then convert it back into the original format the data was in before it was sent.
Data sent over fiber optic cables are sent through pulses of light. Since light travels further and faster than electrons, fiber optic cables can transmit much more data than copper wires. Cat5e low voltage cables can send up to 1,000 Mbs at 350 Hz bandwidth.
Low voltage wiring is the preferred cabling for homes and businesses that want the fastest bandwidth for internal and external communications. Each new generation of low voltage cabling is backed by the previous generation making the data transfer speeds faster and faster.