Measurement technology for building cabling in the small office/home office sector (SoHo)

Ethernet over copper cabling remains the first choice of device connection in private households and in the SoHo sector. Although applications transmitted via WLAN or other wireless media are gaining in importance, this does not detract from the relevance of copper cabling for network transmission. For quality assurance and for technical as well as economic reasons, installers should test the cabling after installation or after changes - this is the only way to guarantee smooth data transmission over copper cabling in the long term. It must also be ensured that the cabling complies with the promised Ethernet speeds.



High performance computer in every apartment

Where a decade ago telephone cables or a Cat 5 cable were sufficient to establish communication paths within a building or to the outside, SoHo home cabling today has to meet much higher requirements. Technological evolution is advancing rapidly, provoking the rise of more and more electronic devices in everyday life. Fiber optic connections and copper cabling in the home are no longer uncommon. But they are necessary to ensure the immense computing power of devices that are in daily use. As a result of these computing feats, 30 - 40 devices can hang in a network in a single family home today. This impressive performance will grow even more in the future as the Internet of Things (IoT) advances. To ensure that transmission in homes and home offices remains stable, structuring and testing using appropriate measurement technology for building cabling are particularly important.



Wiring quality

When providing home cabling, the use of Gigabit Ethernet is nowadays considered a basic requirement. Based on corresponding standards such as ISO/IEC 11801-6, it is recommended to install at least cabling of performance class EA , i.e. with 500 MHz bandwidth - this additionally enables a reserve in the direction of 10Gb/s Ethernet. Taking into account the long time the cabling remains in a family house or apartment, it makes sense to install higher quality cables (category 8 / 2GHz). This option would enable the later expansion of the bandwidth by a simple exchange of boxes. The increasing installation of Class EA cabling (based on Category 6A components) in the home ensures performance up to 10Gb/s Ethernet. Because a 1Gb/s Ethernet connection has been sufficient for SoHo cabling to date, the installation of more powerful cabling may seem unnecessary at this time. However, by choosing Cat 6A components, the cabling is well prepared for the future. So from an economic point of view, this sustainable cabling structure makes perfect sense - because with Class EA cabling, transmission rates of 10 Gb/s Ethernet are already assured for the coming years. Replacing a data cable after a longer period of time can also be time-consuming, expensive and sometimes even impossible. Despite the fact that the cables are laid in corrugated plastic tubes, the jacket of the data cable easily sinks into the corrugated tube over time and becomes hard. So pulling the cable out of the wall after many years will require a lot of effort - especially if the cabling is buried. Customers should be well explained the benefits of a sustainable and high-quality cabling structure in order to make the network installation as efficient and long-lasting as possible.

Relevance of the wiring

The number of devices in use in a closed network is constantly growing. In order to guarantee the data volume required for this, the use of high-performance cabling is a basic prerequisite. In the course of this, it is becoming indispensable to test the quality and performance of installed cabling - especially in the SoHo area. The widespread opinion that most devices are connected to networks wirelessly via WLAN is only partially true. As the number of devices increases, so does the demand for bandwidth and access points. Above all, the quality of the cabling from the router to the access point is important. Where an Ethernet data rate of 100 Mb/s used to be sufficient to meet the requirements, now at least 1Gigabit Ethernet is needed to ensure the function of all devices in the WLAN network. Gigabit cabling is significantly more powerful, but it also needs to be installed and checked with more care - if transmission is to take place without loss.

The home network based on WLAN therefore requires optimal control cabling to the access points. Multimedia cabling is of great importance here, both in offices and in the home network. Most consumers rely on multimedia boxes from Internet or telephone providers that operate via WLAN or cable. The main advantage of connecting via cable is that the WLAN network is not overloaded. If several users access a 2.4 GHz network at the same time, this bandwidth also becomes scarce. This problem is mainly faced by residents of larger residential units. There, WLAN signals often block each other because channels are not assigned consciously and are used without coordination. At this point, connecting the multimedia boxes via cable makes particular sense, because simply switching to a 5 GHz band would require additional access points because the cell size covered is reduced. This also shows why the cable connection of smart TVs, for example, also makes sense - because a high-performance connection is also needed here.

The performance of the Ethernet infrastructure is considered the basis of trouble-free data transmission - both in the home and in the "home office". To ensure the necessary performance capability, it should therefore be tested using appropriate measurement technology for the building cabling.

Testing as a solution:

Passive Tests

Due to the growing demands placed on data lines by digitalization, testing of building cabling is becoming increasingly important - even in the home. While measurement technology such as a certification measuring device (e.g. WireXpert from Softing IT Networks) is used for application-neutral cabling in the office or data center environment, which determines the performance capability of a data link by successive individual measurements of low-frequency and high-frequency electrical parameters, the device requirements for testing SoHo cabling are less stringent.

Instead, it is common in this environment to use wiring testers, the so-called verifiers, which only test the correct assignment of the cores in the cable sections. It is not only due to the lack of documentation here that the achievable performance cannot be determined. High-quality verifiers complement the test spectrum with further possibilities, such as determining the wiring plan, simple commissioning measurements for the active network and documentation of a cabling system. If the results are documented, a proof is also available for the customer.

Qualifiers are used to determine the actual performance output of passive cabling. They provide information about the Ethernet speed up to which a system can be used. Like the higher-quality verifier, the qualifier first determines the wiring plan. If the evaluation is positive, it supplements this basic test by determining the line lengths and signal propagation time, determining limiting signal/noise behavior and generating a real data stream on the line under test (here, the good/bad evaluation is based on the permitted error rate of the Ethernet protocol). The corresponding documentation is automatically generated in the background.

Active tests

Suitability tests in the SoHo area can be performed not only by passive cabling tests, but also by active functions. Here, telecommunications equipment (e.g., routers and WLAN access points) is installed long after the cabling has been laid. The installation is often not carried out by a specialist. Any malfunctions and connection problems then oblige the professional installer to come to the customer after the fact to look for the problem and fix it.

Active test functions of high-quality verifiers and qualifiers can now be used to check whether IP addresses are assigned automatically (DHCP test) and whether addresses (devices) can be reached on the LAN and Internet (ping and traceroute). In addition, there is the possibility to test possible remote power supply of end devices under load (Power over Ethernet). Through the documentation during troubleshooting, the specialist can prove, for example, that the installed cabling is not faulty and therefore not the cause of the problem.

The benefits of a comprehensive SoHo wiring audit are obvious:

  • Testing with special measurement technology for building cabling eliminates the need for duplicate on-site operations, because subsequent repairs to the data link are no longer necessary.
  • Documenting the installer's work enables him to promptly correct any wiring errors while still in the construction phase and on site.
  • Proper testing saves many hours that would be needed if a cable route were to malfunction after the fact because its performance was not tested and documented.
  • The time savings have additional positive economic effects. This is because low profit margins in home building cabling can be offset by the mitigation of complaints and repairs afterwards.
  • End customers or owners or tenants save time and money with proof of the function of the cabling installation.