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Installation – Wiring for Workstations

Installing workstation cable as an afterthought just doesn't cut it in today's business world. Careful planning up front will make all the difference.

July 1, 2000  

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According to some estimates, 75 per cent of workstation wiring and cabling is installed after a new or renovated building is occupied. With IT playing such a critical role in today’s business, is it right that this vital component of a building’s function be relegated to fit-out or retrofit status?

A structured cabling system infrastructure can ensure that the building will be a “Class A” space for years to come, regardless of the hardware and system protocol that will be used. But achieving the best cabling system infrastructure requires the active involvement of technology managers throughout the design process. How else can the design team know the true needs of a business?

In the absence of firm infrastructure requirements, some engineers merely specify high-capacity distribution systems. This may not be the most cost-effective long-range solution, and it certainly adds up-front costs. Excessive capacity can also compound design and aesthetic problems.

If the solution is not merely adding capacity, then what is it? Before answering the question and deciding on an actual infrastructure design and location, there are several points to consider…

How many services are needed at each point of use?

Typical workstations require five services — 1) filtered, surge protected, isolated ground AC power, 2) unfiltered AC power, 3) a LAN connection, 4) a modem line and 5) a telephone line. A growing number of workstations also need specialized services, such as video.

Will the cabling system need to be upgraded to meet future technology?

The answer is almost certainly “yes”; this means accessibility for change-out is essential. The cabling infrastructure must also accommodate the required bend radius of fiber optic and high-performance copper cable. Make sure the system will have the expected bandwidth and technical performance when needed.

How often will it be necessary to move people or add workstations?

The cabling infrastructure must be flexible for moves, adds and changes (MACs) with minimal down time.

How much do you want to see?

Aesthetic requirements vary from workspace to workspace. What is effective in a back-office space might not be appropriate for a conference room. Investigate which cabling infrastructure components best suit the surrounding space.


Unfortunately there is still a tendency to think of data/communications installations as unrelated “systems” that can somehow be slipped into a building moments before the tenants or users arrive. Communications cabling is an integral, building-wide infrastructure. Owners and members of the design team who do not consider cabling until late in the design run some serious risks, including:

Eliminating certain highly effective cabling pathway solutions. Cellular deck and infloor duct systems, for example, must be considered early in the process. Optimal placement of other infrastructure components, such as cable trays and perimeter systems, may be impossible if the design does not provide for them.

Reducing building flexibility. Effective utilization of open space depends on the availability of communications technology and the ability to reconfigure the space with minimal down time.

Failing to consider the impact of future technology. While no one can predict the future with complete certainty, providing a robust, accessible, adaptable communications cabling infrastructure from the start is an effective strategy for maintaining a building’s long-term functionality.

Increasing the costs and difficulty associated with installing and changing the cabling system.

Encouraging a patchwork of stopgap wiring that detracts from a building’s aesthetic appeal and functionality.


Wire and cable management systems can be grouped into five primary categories:

Infloor Systems include underfloor duct and raised floors. Underfloor duct systems provide support and security for cabling in reinforced concrete and steel constructions. Raised floor boxes offer convenient access to data/communications cabling.

Open space systems, such as floor boxes and poke-thru devices, serve areas that are not adjacent to partitions. These systems can provide direct access to cabling or can feed into modular office furniture. Installed in core-drilled holes, poke-thru fittings maintain the fire rating of floors. Service poles are another option for open space applications.

Perimeter systems route wiring and cabling securely along walls. These systems are often specified for conference rooms, offices, classrooms and training centres. Unlike conventional conduit, cabling that is laid into a perimeter system remains easily accessible at all times. These systems are also easy to expand or reconfigure.

Overhead systems offer a high degree of flexibility, both in terms of locating the components and accessing the cabling contained within them. Cable trays are available in a variety of styles, including centre spine, solid bottom and ladder. Although cable tray was historically installed above drop ceilings, it is increasingly showing up in open ceiling applications.

Point-of-use solutions focus on the workstation. Here, the objective is to provide communications connectivity that is compatible with all cabling pathways. Modular systems enable a diverse array of connectivity components to be installed in standard faceplates or mounting bezels.


Consideration throughout the design process is critical to maximizing a building’s technology infrastructure. Technology managers must work with architects and other members of the design team to fully meet data/communications requirements in ways that will not compromise aesthetics. The objective is to maximize functionality by meeting current and future space and technology requirements.

It is best to do this type of planning at the beginning. This approach maximizes flexibility, increases the value and marketability of the property, and protects the original design against unplanned intrusions.CS

Bill Helene is Manager, Specification Marketing for The Wiremold Company in West Hartford, Connecticut, a supplier of wire and cable management systems, cabling connectivity systems and power and data protection. He is responsible for leading Wiremold’s vertical marketing efforts, such as education, healthcare, offices and retail.

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