Will unshielded twisted pair (UTP) replace coaxial cable? Probably not, but for those who want to bundle systems and services, it is an extremely viable option. When you find out that twisted wire is actually a good thing, it may counter everything you have learned about connectivity.

UTP allows for the deployment of one cable for power, signaling and control applications, making it a superior labor-savings device. Where it really shines is in its ability to transmit video signals for closed-circuit television surveillance (CCTV).

As with any technology, there are pluses and minuses. UTP may not be suitable for longer runs and may not have the same signal strength over distances, whereas coaxial is still the workhorse of distance applications and wards off signal degradation. However, manufacturers of UTP-enabled products continue to work on devices that provide strong end-to-end transmission.

Get ready to twist again

UTP is individual wires tightly twisted to minimize interference between adjacent circuits. In fact, the tighter the twist the better, and that is where this method of connectivity gets its integrity, according to Arn Reno, RCDD and regional manager, ICC, Cerritos, Calif.

“UTP describes the composition of the cable. Interestingly, the twist is what makes it stronger. The most common types of UTP are Category 5e and 6,” he said.

Reno added there may be a migration from coaxial cable to UTP for surveillance applications and that is where UTP is seeing the most action.

“There seems to be a move to put video on UTP and if that comes around, structured cabling will really take off,” he said.

UTP shines as a labor- and cost- savings device for CCTV. Graybar, St. Louis, recently began a program called “Enable the Cable,” designed to help network architects and technicians leverage their knowledge of UTP and apply it to communications structured cabling systems in commercial buildings. CCTV systems, according to Graybar, are an excellent place to incorporate the “Enable the Cable” methodology, because the installation of coaxial may allow CCTV systems to work effectively today, but may not allow for a future migration path to digital systems.

Tracy Farrington, product manager for Integrated Systems, Pelco, Clovis, Calif., said video signals can be successfully transmitted over UTP. The transmission distance will vary depending on the type of category cabling used.

“UTP is increasingly being used in video security as a cabling alternative,” Farrington said. “UTP offers flexibility with lower cable costs than coaxial, ease of installation and is commonly available in new and existing building structures. UTP is lighter and smaller than coaxial, has multipurpose use and provides immunity to noise.”

Farrington added that Pelco’s UTP family of products can be used to connect cameras to digital video recorders, matrix switchers and video multiplexers as well as to transport video signals from point to point in any application where coaxial is installed. For short and medium-length runs (up to 750 feet), a passive transceiver can be used at each end of the UTP cable; for longer runs, an active device is required to compensate for losses in the cable transmission, she said.

Like all technologies, it works best when applied/installed correctly. Some of the newer devices on the market are increasing the integrity by applying automatic compensation technology. This technology eliminates manual adjustments, reducing the possibility of an installation error.

“The use of UTP for transmission is growing at a very rapid rate due to ease of installation and lower costs. Coaxial will continue to be a video transmission alternative. Some installers may continue to use coaxial over the midterm. However, over the next five to 10 years, we will see the percentage of installations using UTP for video transport grow to become the majority,” Farrington concluded.

UTP is another connectivity solution electrical contractors may consider for labor savings and migration to digital technology, especially in the ever-popular deployment of cameras and surveillance systems.     EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.