Networking / Beginners

Installing Network Wiring

When your network adapters are installed, the next step is to get your computers connected together. Installing the wiring can be the most difficult task of setting up a network. How you proceed depends on the type of networking adapters you have:

  • If you're using wireless adapters, of course you don't have to worry about wiring at all. Just follow the manufacturer's instructions for configuring the wireless network adapters.
  • If you're using phone-line networking, plug a standard modular telephone cable into each phone-line network adapter and connect them to the appropriate wall jacks. The adapter must be plugged directly into the wall jack, and then additional devices such as modems, telephones, and answering machines can be connected to the adapter.
  • If you're using power-line networking, plug the adapters into wall sockets near your computers.
  • If you're using IEEE-1394 networking, buy certified IEEE-1394 cables and plug your computers together.

If you're using any of these three network types, make the connections and skip ahead to the "Configuring a Workgroup Network" or "Joining an Existing Network" section.

Otherwise, you're using UTP 10BASE-T or 10/100BASE-T Ethernet adapters and you have to decide how to route your wiring and what type of cables to use. The remainder of this section discusses UTP wiring.

If your computers are close together, you can use pre-built patch cables to connect your computers to a hub. (The term patch cable originated in the telephone industry-in the old days, switchboard operators used patch cables to temporarily connect, or patch, one phone circuit to another. In networking, the term refers to cables that are simply plugged in and not permanently wired.) You can run these cables through the habitable area of your home or office by routing them behind furniture, around partitions, and so on. Just don't put them where they'll be crushed, walked on, tripped over, or run over by desk chair wheels-this not only constitutes a safety hazard; it can cause network problems.

If the cables need to run through walls or stretch long distances, you should consider having them installed inside the walls with plug-in jacks, just like your telephone wiring. Hardware stores sell special cable covers you can use if you need to run a cable where it's exposed to foot traffic, as well as covers for wires that need to run up walls or over doorways.

General Cabling Tips

You can determine how much cable you need by measuring the distance between computers and your hub location(s). Remember to account for vertical distances, too, where cables run from the floor up to a desktop, or go up and over a partition or wall.

CAUTION If you have to run cables through the ceiling space of an office building, you should check with your building management to see whether the ceiling is listed as a plenum or air-conditioning air return. You may be required by law to use certified plenum cable and follow all applicable electrical codes. Plenum cable is specially formulated not to emit toxic smoke in a fire.

Keep in mind the following points:

  • Existing telephone wiring usually won't work. If the wires are red, green, black, and yellow: no way. The cable must have color-matched twisted pairs of wires, each with one wire in a solid color and the other white with colored stripes. Unless the cable jacket is clearly marked "CAT-5," "CAT-5E," or "CAT-6," don't use it. Install new wiring.
  • You must use CAT-5 quality wiring and components throughout: cables, RJ-45 jacks, RJ-45 plugs, terminal blocks, patch cables, and so on.
  • If you're installing in-wall wiring, follow professional CAT-5 wiring practices throughout. Be sure not to untwist more than half an inch of any pair of wires when attaching cables to connectors. Don't solder or splice the wires.
  • When you're installing cables, be gentle. Don't pull, kink, or stretch them. Don't bend them sharply around corners; you should allow at least a one-inch radius for bends. And don't staple or crimp them. To attach cables to a wall or baseboard, use rigid cable clips that don't squeeze the cable. Your local electronics store can sell you the right kind of clips.
  • Keep network cables away from AC power wiring and away from electrically noisy devices such as fluorescent lamps, arc welders, diathermy machines, and the like.

NOTE If you really want to get into the nuts and bolts, so to speak, of pulling your own cable, a good starting point is Que's Practical Network Cabling, which will help you roll up your shirtsleeves and get dirty (literally, if you have to crawl around through your attic or wrestle with dust bunnies under too many desks at the office).

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