Meet The Fourth Utility – Structured Cabling


The initiative to make buildings more comfortable, environmentally responsible, and cost-efficient is cementing structured cabling as the 4th utility. The following paragraphs will demonstrate how well-designed structured cabling systems have a positive impact on building operating expenses, building life cycle costs, and the productivity of the organizations occupying those buildings. 


Increasing Productivity with Easy Access to Customization

In a two-year study conducted by Purdue University, researchers used sensors installed throughout the workplace to measure light levels and occupant actions to compare two groups of workers as they went about a typical workday. One group of workers used customizable desktop computer controls, designed by the Purdue researchers, for individual control of light. Separately, another group worked in an office with standard lighting controls. The research found that the workers who could easily adjust room lighting from their computers were more engaged than those using the wall-mounted controls. They used less building energy by relying more on daylight than on artificial lighting. With the light just right, these participants also reported higher levels of productivity and performed better in cognitive tests than the control group.  

In a connected PoE system, each light links to the building’s IT network through the structured cabling infrastructure. The system can sense the environment, gather and share data, and provide a more productive and enjoyable working environment. The flexibility of a well-designed structured cabling system and all IP network helps to future-proof the initial investment in infrastructure, reduces installation costs, and delivers value to tenants and building managers through greater comfort, energy efficiency, and employee productivity.  


The Effect of Buildings on the Environment

According to the Canada Green Building Council, buildings generate nearly 30 percent of all greenhouse gases, 35 percent of landfill waste comes from construction and demolition activities, and up to 70 percent of municipal water is consumed in and around buildings. It’s clear that buildings can have a substantial impact on Canada’s environmental goals. 

The introduction of more stringent, regulatory requirements aimed at improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions has been met with building management systems that are more complex than ever before. Modern Building Management Systems can be used to monitor and control a wide range of building systems, including fire and smoke detection and alarms, motion detectors, CCTV, intrusion and access control, elevators, lighting and more. They can provide real-time remote monitoring and integrated control of the wide range of connected systems mentioned above. In doing so they allow modes of operation, energy use, and environmental conditions to be monitored and controlled to optimize performance and comfort. BEMS can also trigger alarms, in some cases predicting problems and informing maintenance programmes. They allow records to be kept of historical performance, enable benchmarking of performance against other buildings or sites and may help automate report writing. 

 As a result, the number of sensors needed to monitor and control building systems has increased. Where once these systems were disparate and unable to communicate with one another. Now they are integrated, communicate over IP (internet protocol), and are part of a building energy management system (BEMS). With the emergence of BEMS, the practice of having several dedicated telecommunications infrastructures has given way to one high-performance infrastructure operating over standards-based structured cabling.  


But what Type of Cable should be Used? Fibre or Copper? Or Both?

 Proponents of complete fibre optic infrastructures argue that only base-building systems created through an all-fibre infrastructure can provide the bandwidth that customers and tenants require well into the future.  

Fibre is the best possible solution wherever the highest (symmetrical) speeds and lowest latency are required but not every single connection in a building needs the highest possible speed. Category 6A cabling can support speeds up to 10GB/s whilst also offering power over ethernet. That speed is sufficient for most in-building applications.  

Aside from speed, fibre has the advantage of being able to carry data over considerable lengths. Copper’s physical resistance limits its use to shorter distances (100m). 

A fibre-based LAN eliminates the need for cabling closets, UPS power, data grounds saving both floor space and money.  

Copper solutions have the added benefit of being a key powering strategy. Power over Ethernet (PoE) allows network managers, installers, and integrators to use a structured cabling to provide both power and data to network devices. Next-generation PoE technology allows a three-fold increase in the amount of power transmitted through IP networks up to 90W. That is enough to power devices such as digital signage and TV monitors while connecting them to your network at the same time.   

Determining the correct media should not be taken lightly. A needs assessment and a detailed report including a thorough audit of existing telecommunications infrastructure conducted by a registered communication distribution design professional is the best place to start. A well-designed structured cabling system that can easily accommodate system growth will reduce operating expenses and lower building life cycle costs.  


The significance of the role that structured cabling plays in creating more comfortable, environmentally responsible, and cost-efficient buildings can’t be understated. It connects critical building systems such as lighting and electrical systems, plumbing systems, HVAC systems, fire alarms, elevators, mechanical systems, surveillance cameras, and security systems. When connected those systems can improve the occupant’s experience which makes the space more desirable. They can save energy, conserve water, and reduce carbon emissions. Designed properly, standards-based structured cabling can futureproof a building from additional costs associated with adopting new technologies because the infrastructure to support them is already in place. Without a doubt, structured cabling is the 4th utility. 

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