Welcome to the Information Age, where your television is digital, your stereo follows you from room to room, and the lights are cued as you pull in the driveway. Well, we're not there yet. But we're close, and if you're considering home networking, High Definition Television (HDTV), or any of a number of other digital products and services, you need to tune into the new buzz in the electronics industry: structured wiring. This bundle may look like a tangle of copper wire and spun glass cables but what it represents is bandwidth. Structured wiring — a term that has migrated from the computer world into the world of home electronics — can feed your home's ever-growing need for information-carrying capacity. Before you know it, you'll be able to connect your laptop to your stove top but in order to take advantage of these innovations, you'll have to start thinking about wiring now.
In the good old days of the 1990s, most signals coming into your home were in the form of analog waves. Today most signals are currently sent in a digital form or will be shortly. Digital transmission is the same language that a computer uses to talk to a printer. Given that all electronics are becoming little computers, all of these pieces of equipment are beginning to talk digitally to each other. Once the digital language becomes standard, then the discussion will quickly turn to speed and that is where structured wiring comes in handy.
Specifically, a structured wire "bundle" consists of two RG6-Quad shield coaxial cables, two multi-mode fiber optic lines and two Category 5 or 5E or 5plus communication cables. The coaxial cable is the wire that connects our VCR to the television and can carry a variety of digital signals. HDTV and cable modems currently use this wire in your home. Why two of these to each location? To allow information to flow both in and out of your home, for additional information-carrying capacity if needed. The fiber optic lines are actually the coolest "wires" in the bundle. They provide ultra-wide bandwidth (meaning lots of digital stuff can move very quickly) and are more reliable than copper. You don't see a lot of consumer electronics communicating via fiber optic,but as fiber optic prices go down, their popularity will increase. In truth most media systems technologists would prefer that all digital communication happen via fiber; it makes everything work more reliably. The Category 5 communication cable is used for your telephone, fax and computer hookups. A lot of tomorrow's technology will use this wire since it's already in many of our homes.
Structured wiring radiates from a central hub in a star pattern through your home's walls so that each outlet or jack has its own run of cable. (The National Electric Code (NEC) requires that it be installed at least six inches away from the electrical wiring already in the walls.) If you are building or renovating, wire your home for the future while the walls are open. Remember: wires are cheap but pulling wires through a finished house is expensive. With that as a motto, have your installer run lots of wires to lots of locations, even if you're not ready to use them all yet. Better yet, have your installer install a metal conduit through which future cables can be snaked without ripping down walls. The half-life of modern technology is ever shrinking, so thebest you can do is think ahead.
Above all, don't let these new developments frighten you. They're actually fairly easy to understand and will soon be useful in your home in the years to come.
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