Data cables are continually evolving presenting the installer with the challenge of keeping up. Some old timers will fondly remember Cat3 station wire, but with fiber becoming more prevalent it may be sooner than later that all copper cabling becomes obsolete.
In the meantime, we take a look at some typical methods for terminating both copper and fiber cables and provide some useful new tips.
With any category cabling it’s important to be sure which terminating standard is being used. For Cat 5, Cat 5e and Cat 6 cables there are two main standards: T568A and T568B. These can be used for RJ45 connectors, keystone jacks and data modules.
An Ethernet cable consists of four twisted pairs of wires. Each pair being made up of one of the following colors: blue, green, orange and brown with one wire from each pair being a solid color and the other striped.
The two standards look very similar and it’s often said that as long as the same one is used at both ends of the cable, it doesn’t matter which is used. However, there are reasons you might want to use the T568B standard. T568A was chosen as it was backwards compatible with the old telephone single pair and two pair USOC (Universal Service Order Code) standard but now T568B has superseded it because it is still compatible with single pair USOC but will better accommodate current and future needs.
If you’re working with networks that use the older T568A standard, it’s probably best to stick with that one to avoid confusion. If you were building a network from the ground up, using T568B would be better.
It’s a good idea to remove 1.5” to 2” of protective jacket so that the eight wires are easily arranged and trimmed to length before inserting them into the connector. Make sure to use a wire stripper of the correct size so that you are scoring the jacket rather than cutting through to the wires beneath. Also, if you find it difficult to insert the wire a small amount of water or a lick will help.
Once the wires are arranged correctly push them into connector while it’s being crimped to prevent the wires pulling out. Ratchet style crimping tools are available that make this task easier and also release when the correct tightness has been reached.
As for fiber, although the cables may look similar to copper ones from the outside they are completely different on the inside. Utmost care must be used when terminating fiber not only because laser light and scraps of glass can damage the eye but also because the slightest scratch or speck of dirt can ruin the connection.
Before beginning to cut and strip fiber cables it’s essential to have a clean work environment preferably using a dark work surface so that scraps of glass are easily found. These scraps should be carefully disposed of because if they are picked up on someone’s fingers they can easily make their way into the eye.
Make sure to use tools that match the size and type of fiber cable. This means knowing what kinds of cables you may encounter. They generally fall into the main categories of single mode or multi-mode and tight-buffered or loose-tube-buffered varieties. Knowing how much of the protective jacket and buffer to remove depends on which type it is.
Because fiber is quite delicate, great care must be used when stripping the cable to avoid putting too much pressure on the glass strand. Removing the buffer in short lengths also reduces friction and the likelihood of the strand curling.
The tools used must be kept extremely clean to avoid damage to the glass core. Use a fine brush to repeatedly clean dust and debris from cutters and strippers but never use compressed air as this may scatter scraps of glass.
Once the cable has been cut and stripped it needs to be cleaned and prepped before attaching the connector. This should only be done with a solution specifically designed for fiber such as 99% pure isopropyl alcohol. Anything else could contaminate the surface preventing the epoxy glue used for attaching the connector from adhering properly.