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IT Managers Guide to Understanding Structured Cabling

System Performance
August 2000

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June 2000

IT Managers Guide to Understanding Structured Cabling

System Performance

Traditionally, the IT Managers focus when it came to data communications was

centered on the wide area network (WAN) portion of the corporate networking
infrastructure. With that focus came an understanding and appreciation of WAN
issues and concepts like transmission bit rates, response time, throughput and
error performance to name a few.
As we have moved from mainframe to distributed client-server architectures the
role of the local area network (LAN) has grown increasingly important. At the
same time, client-server based applications and LAN communications
technologies have been advancing at a tremendous pace. Shared database
applications, imaging, real-time video and, of course, the Internet are new
productivity opportunities for the user community. Equipped with the latest
gigahertz clock rate workstations and multi-gigabyte drives, the users are placing
ever-increasing new traffic demands on the LAN along with ever-increasing
expectations of faster response times and improved performance.
Your structured cabling system, the mostly hidden infrastructure of wires and
jacks and patch panels, forms the critical foundation of your local area network.
Today, more than ever before, the quality and performance of your cabling
system plays a direct and measurable role on the performance and reliability of
your LANs and, therefore, your corporate IT strategies.
For the IT Manager, this means developing an awareness and understanding of
structured cabling issues and concepts. In some cases, WAN concepts like
transmission bit rates and error performance re-appear in the cabling
environment, however there are many cabling system concepts that will be new
to the IT Manager. Bandwidth measured in megahertz (MHz) and signal power
and noise sources measured in decibels (dB) are a few of several key cabling
system concepts and performance parameters that will be explained in this
reference guide.
This guide will focus on providing simple explanations of the key performance
parameters and concepts that are used in evaluating and selecting the right
structured cabling system for your networking needs. As a service to our
customers and business partners, NORDX/CDT also provides an extensive
library of cabling system reference documents and publications, and operates
one of the industrys most highly regarded training centers. For more information
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June 2000

on NORDX/CDTs reference library and training center, visit us on the web at
The Role of Standards
In an effort to set performance norms for different types of structured cabling
systems that promote inter-operability at many levels, standards bodies around
the world have developed specifications for classes or categories of cabling
systems. In North America the Telecommunications Industry Association, or TIA,
develops and publishes standards for structured cabling systems. Today, TIA
recommends Category 5e (or Enhanced Category 5) as the minimum
requirement for new structured cabling systems for data applications. While
Category 5e is a recent development, most industry experts consider this
standard to be an interim solution to bridge the time gap until a true next
generation cabling standard can be developed for gigabit and multi-gigabit
networking applications. TIA is currently working on the development of the next
generation Category 6 standard for UTP structured cabling systems.
This guide will focus on identifying and explaining the key performance
parameters that will be defined in the upcoming TIA Category 6 standard.
Category 6 Performance Parameters
TIAs Category 6 standard will quantify eight key performance parameters
required for next generation cabling systems.
These parameters include:

Return Loss
Propagation Delay
Delay Skew

All transmission networks, whether LAN or Wan, copper or fiber, are subject to
attenuation. That is, the transmitted signal strength decreases as it traverses the
transmission media. The amount of loss is referred to as attenuation, and is
typically a function of the physical properties of the transmission media and the
distance traveled, i.e., the longer the cable length, the more the signal is
attenuated. In WAN environments, active components such as amplifiers and
repeaters are used to overcome this effect. In LAN environments, without
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amplifiers or repeaters, the network must rely on the inherent attenuation

performance of the cabling system. Expressed in decibels (dB) per 100 meters,
lower values are better. Lower attenuation means greater signal strength, which
in turn means greater immunity to noise and therefore increased bandwidth.
PSNEXT (Power Sum Near-End Crosstalk)
PSNEXT is the combined crosstalk noise caused by near end transmitters on
neighboring cable pairs interfering with the signal measured at the same end on
a given pair. Higher values for this parameter imply that lower crosstalk energy is
transferred into the adjacent pair. Expressed in decibels (dB), higher values are
PSACR (Power Sum Attenuation-to-Crosstalk Ratio)
PSACR is the difference between the attenuation of the signal and the power
sum crosstalk measured in decibels (dB) at a specified frequency. This difference
is critical to ensure that the signal sent down the twisted-pair cable is stronger at
the receiving end of the cable than any interference signals (crosstalk) from other
pairs. Measured in decibels (dB) at a specific frequency, higher values are better.
PSELFEXT (Power Sum Equal Level Far-End Crosstalk)
PSELFEXT is the crosstalk noise caused by far end transmitters on neighboring
cabling pairs interfering with the signal measured at the near end of the same
channel. PSELFEXT is expressed in dB relative to the magnitude of the receive
signal. Higher values imply that lower crosstalk energy is transferred into the
adjacent pair. Expressed in decibels (dB), higher values are better.
Return Loss
Return Loss is the power of the reflected signal, or echo. Reflected signals or
echoes are created by impedance mismatches between the components
installed in the channel. The better the impedance matching, the lower the
reflected energy and the higher the return loss. Expressed in decibels (dB),
higher values for Return Loss are better.
Propagation Delay
Propagation delay is the time that it takes for a signal to travel from one end of a
channel to the other end of the channel. Expressed in nanoseconds (ns=10-9
second), lower values are better.

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Delay Skew
Delay skew is the difference between the propagation delay between any two
pairs within the same cable sheath. Expressed in nanoseconds (ns=10-9 second),
lower values are better.
Available bandwidth is the capacity of available frequencies of a
telecommunications channel. The greater the bandwidth, the greater is the
information carrying capacity of the channel in a given period of time. Frequency,
and therefore bandwidth, is measured in cycles per second (Hertz), higher values
are better.
Putting It All Together
Now that we have a basic understanding of the parameters that define the
performance of next generation structured cabling systems including TIAs
proposed Category 6 standard, lets consider how to rank these parameters in
order of importance.
Consider that the performance of cabling systems is, in simplest terms, a battle
of good and evil. Good is represented by signal strength across the channel and
evil is represented by the various noise sources that attack the signal along its
route. With this analogy it is easy to understand that few would argue that
Attenuation is the single most important parameter affecting cabling system
performance. Next is Bandwidth, as Bandwidth defines the information carrying
capacity of the channel. Return Loss, PSACR, PSNEXT, PSELFEXT, Delay
Skew and Propagation delay all are important, but follow Attenuation and
Bandwidth in terms of relative importance to the overall performance of the
channel. When considering your next generation structured cabling system, be
sure to obtain each manufacturers published performance data for each of these
key system parameters, ranked in the order of importance shown below. For
comparative reference, the table on the following page provides a comparison of
the current Category 6 proposed values for each parameter as well as
NORDX/CDTs guaranteed performance values for certified IBDN System
4800LX structured cabling systems.

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June 2000

Category 6 Performance Parameters @ 200 MHz


Category 6 Standard

IBDN System 4800LX


Attenuation (Lower is better)

Bandwidth (Higher is better)
Return Loss (Higher is better)
(Higher is better)
(Higher is better)
PSELFEXT (Higher is better)
Delay Skew (Lower is better)
Prop. Delay (Lower is better)

31.7 dB
200 MHz
9.0 dB
0.2 dB
31.9 dB
14.2 dB
50 ns
555 ns

27.0 dB
300 MHz
10.0 dB
10.0 dB
37.0 dB
19.0 dB
25 ns
490 ns

To learn more about structured cabling concepts and our IBDN System 4800LX;
the only cabling system certified to perform Beyond Category 6, please visit
us on the web at, or contact the NORDX/CDT sales office in
your area.

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