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March 1, 2013

The ABCs of Residential Structured Wiring

June 1, 2003
Last month's cover story explored some of the trends, companies and technology that make the residential structured wiring market one of the most intriguing

Last month's cover story explored some of the trends, companies and technology that make the residential structured wiring market one of the most intriguing market opportunities in the electrical wholesaling industry. But along with the opportunity comes the need to learn some of the basic nuts-and-bolts of the business. Electrical distributors don't need an engineering degree to sell structured wiring products, but they should be comfortable with some of the basic terminology. This article will help.

Structured wiring systems really aren't all that complex if you have a basic understanding of the types of circuits they use, how each product fits into the system and some of the new technologies. If you have any familiarity at all with the technical side of power wiring, you may even find the basics of the residential structured wiring market to be much easier to grasp.

That doesn't mean after reading this article and the feature story in last month's issue that you will be able sell and design a full-fledged home automation showcase in Beverly Hills wired to the studs with a butt-kicking sound system, video surveillance of every nook and cranny, high-speed Web access in every room and remote control of all lighting and every conceivable appliance and electrical load. But at least your eyes won't glaze over the next time you run into someone who loves to ramble on about the delights of residential structured wiring. Read on.

ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) is a method of carrying high-speed traffic over existing copper twisted-pair wires. ADSL offers three channels: a high-speed (between 1.5 Mbps and 6.1 Mbps) downlink from the carrier to the customer, a full-duplex data channel at 576K bps, and a plain old telephone service (POTS) channel.

Bandwith is the capacity a wire has for carrying data.

Bluetooth is the wireless radio frequency technology named after a legendary Viking warrior. It was developed to seamlessly link mobile devices at home and in the office.

Broadband transmission is the use of a single medium, or wire, to carry several channels at once.

Dedicated lines are telephone wires that are not switchable and may only be used to communicate between the two designated locations.

CATV is the acronym for cable TV.

Category 5 (Cat 5) cable is capable of transmitting data at high speeds (100 megabits per second and faster). Cat 5 cable is commonly used for voice and data applications in the home. Category 6 cable offers even more capacity.

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) is a high-speed data connection over a standard telephone line.

Distribution panels organize and distribute technologies such as data, voice, audio and video throughout a new home.

Ethernet technology, once used just in offices and other business, is now used in most home networks. In an Ethernet network, cables run computer to computer.

Future-proofing is the practice of designing and/or installing a system that will provide a home with tomorrow's technology today. It's the basic practice of installing a structured wiring panel, RG-6 and Cat 5 or better cable throughout the home.

ISPs or Internet Service Providers offer homeowners access to the Web.

Jacks are receptacles used with a plug to make electrical connections between communication circuits. Jacks are considered the female component of a jack/plug connector.

Last mile describes the bottleneck conventional telephone wiring creates because it doesn't have the capacity to handle the high data speeds available from today's Internet providers. That's why Web access via cable modem or DSL lines is so much faster than the dial-up access over standard telephone lines.

Local area networks (LANs) are nonpublic datacommunications networks confined to limited geographic areas. LANs are used to provide communication between computers and related peripherals in homes.

Multi-use outlets or modular outlets allow the connection of data, video, audio and phone all in one outlet. Multi-use outlets have a snap-in module for each service, all connected to a distribution panel.

Network interface cards (NICs) allow each network computer to communicate with devices on the network.

Power-line networks use homes' existing AC wiring to transmit high-speed data.

Prewiring is the practice of installing wire or cable in a home before the walls go up.

RCDD. The Registered Communications Distribution Designer is a professional status granted by the BICSI trade association based on knowledge of the telecommunications industry.

Residential gateway is a term generally used to describe a whole-house, intelligent network-interface device that has yet to be developed. Its proponents see it as “a standardized and flexible network interface unit that receives communication signals from various external networks and delivers the signals to specific consumer devices through in-home networks.”

RG-6 cable is a cable capable of high-speed data transmission. RG-6 coaxial cable is commonly used for video applications in the home.

Routers are switches with adapter ports that allow one or more computers to access the Web via a single DSL/cable modem.

Smurf tube is corrugated PVC flexible tubing used to provide an easy method of upgrading structured wiring systems. The tube is run from the distribution panel to each outlet during the prewiring construction phase. Retrofit wiring can easily be pulled through the tubes without painstaking cable snaking. The most common type, Flex-Plus Blue ENT, is manufactured by Carlon, Cleveland, Ohio. Workers nicknamed it “smurf tube” because of its distinctive blue color.

SOHO is a term used to describe the small office and home segment of the VDV market.

Structured wiring defines the way the cables are arranged in the home. In a structured wiring system, each cable is run from the central distribution unit or distribution panel to the wall plate.

War chalking helps wireless hackers find wireless computer networks that they can use to borrow (steal) Web service. It's a new language based on symbols written on sidewalks or building walls that identify nearby wireless Web access.

These chalk symbols are similar to what hobos used in their travels to leave signs of food, water, danger, shelter and other necessities. See for more information on war chalking.

Wi-Fi is short for “wireless fidelity” and is called Wireless Ethernet 802.11b. Wireless Home RF operates on radio frequencies (RF) and was developed for wireless digital communication between personal computers and consumer electronic devices.

Unshielded twisted pair (UTP) is a type of communication transmission cable in which two individually insulated wires are twisted around each other to reduce induction (thus interference) from one wire to the other. The pair may be surrounded by a shield, insulating jacket or additional pairs of wires.

X-10 is a popular home-automation technology that uses the same power lines that supply electricity throughout the home to transmit commands to lights, appliances and other devices. It's an early home-automation system.

Credits: Parts of this glossary were adapted from material published on the Web sites of Best Buy, Richfield, Minn.; Future Automation Resources Inc., Flossmoor, Ill.; Home Director, Livermore, Calif.; and Hubbell Premise Wiring, Stonington, Conn.