It is not a new cabling and wiring installation technique, but it has certainly come of age. Zone cabling is a little like the old multiplexed circuits of the early high-end burglar alarm systems (think New York jewelry stores) with a much more modern twist. Zone cabling has emerged as a smart and savvy way for electrical contractors, integrators and telecommunications technicians to adeptly address the voracious appetite by end-users, tenants and others for new telecommunications technology.

Zone cabling should be part of a contractor’s total wiring and cabling package whenever possible. By taking advantage of this method, not only do they address abandoned cabling and environmental considerations, but they deploy cabling that makes the most efficient use of space now and for the future. Even more importantly, zone cabling makes for the perfect migration paths to upgrade to fiber, Category 6, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) or wireless.

Multiplex alarm-signaling circuits (they are still in use in some cases for burglar and fire alarms) was really a more sophisticated form of McCulloh signaling, a method of monitoring many subscribers on a single loop. In actuality, multiplexed transmissions were used to supervise the telecommunication wiring. In many ways, zone cabling is another way of updating and taking advantage of new data and communications technologies, just as multiplexing was in its time.

Power zones

The power of zone cabling is in how it can be applied and what it can do. With a zoned-cabling infrastructure, power and communications are distributed from a central location within the room to specific points.

A single telecommunications room (TR) or closet can serve many customers without a separate direct connection to each and every user as is the case in home-run wiring. The beauty also lies in the fact that it doesn’t have to be deployed immediately, but the infrastructure is in place for the future.

When your friend “MAC” arrives, only the cables between the zone enclosure and the individual equipment are moved, added or changed, eliminating disruption in other zones and rewiring. Finally, there is the issue of maintenance—it is easier to target problems and find solutions with this star wiring typography.

Zone cabling is “an efficient design variation of our modern cabling infrastructure,” said Ray Keden, worldwide product manager for CADDY, electrical fixing and fastening products at ERICO Inc., Solon, Ohio. “There’s a move to telecommunications enclosures (TE) instead of additional telecommunications rooms per floor, extending backbone cabling closer to the work areas and work area clusters. This represents even more of a ‘plug and play’ solution to the end-user. Usually it is deployed to a cluster of cubicles from a multiuser telecommunications outlet assembly or MUTOA.”

The MUTOA configuration is one of three ways to configure zone cabling; it is an active method. Zone cabling can be active or passive. Passive zone cabling extends permanent horizontal cabling to logical termination points. Active zone cabling is when the telecommunications enclosure (TE) is an active or live miniature of a telecommunications room (TR) mounted in a column, ceiling, wall or floor. It contains electronics, power and patch panels and can also be served by fiber pairs.

Active zone cabling is on the upswing, in part because of its advantages, but also due to new standards. Earlier this year, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) approved publication TIA/EIA-568B.1-5, an addendum to the Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling Standard that recognized active zone cabling. In essence, the standard permits the installation of a TE in lieu of a TR in some applications, which streamlines the installation and reduces labor and equipment costs.

Other TIA/EIA standards that specify and define zone cabling include TIA/EIA-569-B Commercial Building Standard for Telecommunications Pathways and Spaces and TIA/EIA-942 Telecommunications Infrastructure Standard for Data Centers (see www.tiaonline.org).

Zone cabling can also be achieved with a consolidation point or a telecommunications enclosure, in addition to the MUTOA configuration, and each has advantages and requirements under previously mentioned and applicable TIA/EIA standards. All require a hardwired connection to or through the telecommunications room or closet. MUTOA configurations are not allowed in plenum spaces.

Flexibility-plus

“A zone is often a work-area cluster,” Keden said. “How many work areas you combine to a zone is up to you. You can deploy 25-pair cable when using a TE or four-pair cables for MUTOA or consolidation point configurations, depending on the user. You might have 50 possible work areas, but only need 30 at this time, so you run those to the consolidation point. Zone cabling also makes it easier to move tenants from one work area to the other.”

Zone cabling provides numerous advantages and flexibility in application, according to Glenn Kierstead, senior product manager of Copper Systems, Hubbell Premise Wiring, Hubbell Corp., Stonington, Conn.

“With zone cabling, you can run permanent cable to the consolidation or fixed point faster. It doesn’t need to be pulled all the way to the device or termination point until it’s ready to be used. This also addresses and minimizes the amount of abandoned or unused cable,” Kierstead said.

In addition, zone cabling can be used to deploy a fiber optics solution that puts network equipment closer to the work area without previous distance limitations from signal degradation, allowing fewer and smaller telecommunications rooms within the building, Kierstead said.

“For example, fiber can be run all the way from the main equipment area through a single required TR on the appropriate floor directly to the active zone cabling enclosure. Used in this way, fiber optics can be run from the telecommunications enclosure and extend up to 300 meters, as the maximum distance for a horizontal run of UTP or unshielded twisted pair is only 90 meters. The new TIA standard addresses this type of application,” he said.

Other facts affecting the move to zone cabling, he said, include the following:

  • Increased demand and use of power over Ethernet (PoE)
  • High-tech schools, businesses and research and development requirements
  • Awareness and deployment of cable and wire management techniques
  • Office tenants with frequent move-ins, outs and changing needs

“With PoE enabling new appliances at the edge of the network, zone cabling has become a staple for low-voltage services and data communications systems,” said Robert Baxter, director, Data Comm Marketing, Hubbell Premise Wiring. “Cable management and zone cabling are critical to the performance of information transport system installations.”

PoE pieces

PoE continues to emerge as a key player in current and future wiring and cabling transmission transport and communications. It extends the functionality of Ethernet by supplying reliable DC power over the same Category 5/5e twisted-pair cable that currently carries Ethernet data.

PoE, modeled after the technology used by the telecommunications industry, enables quality power for IP telephones (VoIP) as well as many other low power Ethernet network devices like wireless access points (WAP).

Zone cabling is in the spotlight, as business users look for ways to more efficiently carve out a work environment, which means frequent moves and changes in many cases. For contractors, it is a smart way to try to future proof the installation, by planning for technology needs well in advance.

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.