Imagine you’re taking people on a tour of your business. Important people. Maybe they’re new clients or potential investors.
What would you show them first?
The din of the factory floor, where heavy machinery slides products onto whirling conveyor belts? The hum of your war rooms, where strategy teams array brightly colored sticky notes over whiteboards and walls?
Or maybe – just maybe – this?
That’s a photo of a Main Distribution Frame. (Or MDF, in cabling lingo.) It’s the hub from which your local Internet circuit is routed to every device in your building – the laptops, the phones, the cameras, the printers and more. And while it’s not the most exciting stop on the tour, it might be the most important.
It’s also a good example of what TEC does.
We take a confusing tangle of technology that no one understands and simplify it. Make it orderly. Effective. Guaranteed.
Every business (at least, every business we can think of!) needs structured cabling. But the reasons vary. Sometimes, you have a whole new building you need to get online. Other times, you might only be adding a new pod of cubicles.
Either way, you’re about to dive into the (sometimes messy) world of structured cabling.
Three oddball terms for a very simple world.
Cables aren’t that complex. They either work or they don’t. The magic is in the way they are planned, installed, tested and guaranteed. But for some reason, the language people use to talk about cables is confusing as heck.
So here are three phrases you might hear throughout the process.
The “server room” isn’t always a room: From heist flicks to YouTube videos, server rooms are always depicted as these giant, blinking caverns with wires running every which way. But the area where you store your MDF can be just about anything. Depending on the size of your business, you might locate it in a closet, a storeroom, or even a 2×4 foot space above a ceiling tile. A good installer will work with your floorplan to find the safest, least obtrusive location.
The “last mile” is only a few dozen feet: Last mile services are tricky for all businesses. And in the case of a massive retailer like Amazon or Walmart, the last mile is truly a couple miles, as they drive products from one regional warehouse to thousands of local residents. But in the case of Internet services, the last mile is merely the path from the sidewalk, where the circuit is, up to your MDF, and then out to individual workstations. It’s a whole lot of cable, but not a whole lot of distance.
“MDF” isn’t the only confusing acronym in town: For instance, TIA/EIA 568 refers to wiring standards set by the Telecommunications Industry Association and the Electronics Industry Association. They are common standards all cabling has to follow so the Internet can connect from system to system, all across the country. Or you might hear people talk about Cat5 or Cat6 cable. The “Cat” stands for Category, and higher numbers mean the cable is more powerful. The current recommendation for most businesses is Cat6a, which translates as Augmented Category 6 cable. Cat6a lets you share big files and run PoE. (Which, in turn, stands for Power over Ethernet, or the ability to charge devices from a single cable.)
Yep, cabling technicians love their acronyms. And that’s another reason it’s so important to choose a partner you trust. Many pieces of IT hardware can be bought over the Internet and installed by anyone with a truck and some tools. So it’s easy for businesspeople to accidentally purchase poor materials. (Or hire fly-by-night electricians who disappear as soon as the check clears!)
What do you need to know? Just know what you need!
All this is interesting to some folks. But to others, it’s just noise. So what do you actually have to know about cabling before you get started?
First, at the risk of sounding sales-y, choose a partner you trust. (Like a certain company with 18 years of experience. One that’s manufacturer certified. Tests every cable before walking out the door. And offers a 25-year guarantee.)
Next, download our TEC Talks Tech Cabling Prep Sheet. It’ll guide you through four key questions:
What benefits do we expect? Think about things like conference calling, data security, always-on performance, and preparing for future growth.
What do we need? This is a functional question. How many desks need telephones? Ethernet ports? How many people will be using wifi at once? And so on.
What do we want? Maybe it’s a connected TV in every conference room? Or security cameras with AI built-in? What are the most advanced office solutions you can dream of? A good cabling partner will brainstorm with you, working with your floor plan to determine what’s possible.
What’s wrong with our current system? What do your employees or customers complain about now? You should plan to fix those problems, and mine them for insights about the ways your employees are working.
A quality, consultative cabling partner will understand your specs and your floor plan, so your structured cabling upgrade suits your office, your budget and your employees.
(Even if they never actually go back to the MDF to see it.)