Structured cabling design and installation is not the same for warehouses, offices, retail stores, manufacturing plants or data centers. The components of structured cabling are the same, and the principles of low-voltage cabling do not change, but use cases for each type of entity can vary widely, as can service delivery for the installation. Retail stores, in particular, require that any disruptive installation work occur after hours, and in order to stay competitive they may frequently roll out new in-store technology – such as digital signage, ESL, self-checkout, or kiosks – which then requires additional bandwidth and/or extended communications capabilities.

What is low-voltage cabling and why is it important for retail stores?

Low-voltage cabling or low-voltage wiring operates at lower voltage potentials because high-voltage is not necessary for transmitting data as opposed to power. Low-voltage cables have two wires transmitting in opposite directions, which are often twisted together to cancel out interference, which is why they are sometimes referred to as “twisted-pair”. Information transmitted by these cables can be digital signaling or analog voice as is the case with “Plain Old Telephone Service” (POTS). The definition of low-voltage can vary depending on context, network installers usually define low-voltage as 50VDC or under, power transmission technologists often refer to 120VAC house power as “low-voltage” as opposed to the power in transmission lines which can run over 10,000VDC.

Low-voltage cable retail store installation

Low-voltage data transmission cables can be installed in stores and warehouses by network technicians. Because data cables are point-to-point wires, cables with locally identical endpoints are often bundled together, while power cables are usually single two-strand (with ground) cable wired in parallel to service many outlets with power. Bundling a high-voltage power cable with low-voltage data cables is not advisable; the field around the high-voltage wire will interfere with data transmission. It is important to note that due to the risk of a life-threatening shock, state and local regulations require that power transmission cables be installed by a licensed electrician.

Rating low-voltage data cables

Low-voltage data cables are often referred to as Ethernet cables, after the most common communications protocol used at the data level. These cables are rated by the speed at which they can transmit data, expressed as either bandwidth or data rate. Bandwidth and data rate don’t mean the same thing, bandwidth is the frequency of signal waves through the media per second. In older documentation it can be referred to as “clock speed” and in those times bandwidth and data rate were equivalent, or as engineers used to say “one tick of the clock for every bit of data”. For modern data cables, bandwidth and data rate are the same up to CAT 5, past that encoding methods are used to compress the data and achieve higher data rates for the same bandwidth.

The following table shows the most common data cable categories:

Category Data Rate Bandwidth
Category 1 1 Mbps 0.4 MHz
Category 2 4 Mbps 4 MHz
Category 3 10 Mbps 16 MHz
Category 4 16 Mbps 20 MHz
Category 5 100 Mbps 100 MHz
Category 5e 1 Gbps 100 MHz
Category 6 1 Gbps 250 MHz
Category 6a 10 Gbps 500 MHz
Category 7 10 Gbps 600 MHz
Category 7a 10 Gbps 1000 MHz
Category 8 25 Gbps (Cat8.1)
40 Gbps (Cat8.2)
2000 MHz

Selecting the proper cable for an installation depends on speed of network hardware and for external access the speed of the Internet connection.

Structured cabling with low-voltage cables.

Structured cabling is really a design methodology for organizing and optimizing a complex network-based low-voltage wiring installation based on established design standards. Structured cabling design is defined by standard components, which are:

  • Entrance Facilities—the place in the structure where the Internet cable enters from outside. It may be terminated there, or patched into the equipment room where it is terminated at a modem and the signal converted to a network protocol.
  • Equipment room—Typically the operational center of the local network. Often contains routers and bridges for managing the network as well as patch panels for efficient wiring connections to cable bundles.
  • Backbone cabling—These cables connect equipment room facilities with telecommunications rooms. These cables may run vertically to connect different floors, and as a result these bundles are often called vertical cabling.
  • Horizontal cabling—Backbone cabling is often terminated in a patch panel closet on each floor, and horizontal cabling is installed to make the run to work areas or a telecommunications room near the work areas.
  • Telecommunications rooms—These rooms serve to distribute connectivity to work areas. They can be larger rooms with network servers and wireless access points, or small cabinets with patch panels.
  • Work areas—The offices and workspaces of personnel who require access to the network on some basis, which can include computer workstations, telephones, printers and other wired or wireless electronic equipment

While it is useful to understand the functions of these components, by themselves they don’t define an effective bundled cabling design that supports the needs of a multi­-protocol network.

Designing a structured cabling network for retail

Bundled cabling designers with deep retail store experience, like those at Telecom Designs, understand that a successful retail store design serves the needs of users and makes best use of the facilities available. Working within the limits of the available bandwidth, a designer has to ensure adequate data signal over the entire network topology, with ne dead spots. Probably the one factor that most influences design decisions after user’s needs are the limitations in wire length for each category of wire. CAT 6 wire should not be allowed to go in a single cable run for more than 100M (about 325Ft). Telecommunications closets in particular must be placed conveniently close to work areas, but close enough to the equipment room to not exceed the design limitations of the cables used. Best practice is to make all wires in one cable run the same length and bundle them together. These can all be terminated in a patch panel, then patch cables are used to provide shortest length runs to the various plugs in the work area. Bundled cabling design makes consistent cable bundle support, grounding and firestopping standardized and easier to maintain. In the design process for a large facility, a designer can make literally hundreds of choices that impact efficiency, cost, safety, and long-term maintainability. A conscientious designer also works to minimize the number of critical decisions technicians make during the installation by providing clear direction and well understood design principles.

Structured cabling for retail is a challenge that Telecom Designs has embraced for over 30 years. Contact us with your retail project, you will appreciate our experience and commitment.