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Why Bother with Ethernet Cabling. (by Tony Fortunato)

I think there is a balance between doing it yourself and calling the professionals. If it’s a straight forward manageable task and you have the correct tools and knowledge, why not.

For example, I wouldn’t climb an 80 foot tower, pull and terminate 120 pairs of Ethernet cabling or try to terminate fibre connectors.

While working onsite I was asked “Why bother?“ or “We’ll get someone else to do that”. Some people feel that some network tasks are too menial or beneath them. I’ve had some network technicians ask why I would bother doing ‘that kind of work’ when you have had various certifications.

There are many answers; I like the variety, I enjoy keeping my skills sharp, and the job gets done quicker. I find I can add more value to a design or install since I have physically done the work as opposed to just reading the materials. The bonus is that when I watch people do incorrect installations, I have more things to look for when troubleshooting problems.

Here’s a simple example: we had to pull and terminate 3 Ethernet cables as part of an install. The technician said “let’s just call the cabling company to do it”. I asked how long that would take and he responded 2 to 3 days. I reminded him that I was only there for the day and added that it would not take us long to pull three cables 20 feet and terminate them ourselves. The cables were a straight run in the cabling trays above our heads.

Just a quick disclaimer; if you have no experience terminating cables, do not practice or learn on your production environment. Fortunately I have been terminating Ethernet cables for over 20 years, so this is a fairly simple process. I went to my vehicle and got a spool of cable, some RJ 45 connectors as well as my crimper. Fortunately, I had assumed that I might need to do this type of work and had prepared myself with the proper supplies and my vehicle.

Flashback; I will never forget working with network consultants at a new build and I was the only one with tools, a hard hat and my government safety certificates, even though everyone was told this is a construction area. The other consultants  were limited when, and where they could work where I had the run of the place.

Routing and terminating the cables took us about a half an hour and now we can continue with the installation as opposed to waiting 2 to 3 days for somebody to do that same simple task. I tested the cabling with my testers before connecting their equipment.

I then asked the group if anybody had any hands on experience terminating Ethernet cables and nobody did. This is not surprising to me any more. I strongly encourage all network technicians to being well versed in all areas of networking not just typing configuration and troubleshooting commands.

I was working with a very open minded group, which I love to see. I explained the differences between outdoor and indoor Ethernet cabling as well as the difference between T586A and B when terminating Ethernet cables. I covered sources of noise, structured cabling principles and grounding notes. I added some troubleshooting tips and tricks, tools, and what to avoid in the field.

I ended the session by having the group make their own patch cables. I explained this is the best way to practice and many times you have a patch cable that is 2 feet too short and there’s no sense in getting a much longer cable when you could just simply make one. The sessions was extremely valuable since some of the cables weren’t terminated properly. The group saw the errors and symptoms with improperly terminated cabling and what the equipment reported in those scenarios.

I find this scenario quite common in larger companies with various networking silos but not as much in smaller companies. I guess the simple reasoning behind this is that smaller companies do not have access to the resources or funds that the larger company might have. Then there’s those places where you are prohibited from doing anything other than your specific job description. Nothing wrong with that, as long as I know going in, which is why I cover roles and responsibilities with clients before going on site. That way I can be better prepared with what to bring.

In closing I still suggest that all IT technicians get familiar with terminating a cable, physically installing equipment, becoming aware of power and environmental and requirements to complement their skills and troubleshooting background. I can’t tell you how many times the installers have to make the install ‘work’ from designers that plan from a plastic bubble and no real world experience.

 

 

 

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