How to install an Ethernet Patch Panel

What it takes to terminate your data cables

by Lorenz Prem
published on May 26 2010 9:29 pm
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Ethernet uses a home-run or hub model. All wires run from the point of service to a central location. A router sits at the center and routes signals from one machine to next and to the modem. Let's take a look at the part required to build your wiring hub:

Flat Surface

A good patch panel location is a flat plywood surface about 2' wide and 3' high. The plywood makes it easy to attach the networking equipment and wires to the wall with nails. A shelf is a very useful thing to have. If you can't mount the router in the rack, the shelf will support it. The shelf is also a good place to store the little parts that are left over from your installation. Chances are you will need them for an expansion of the system in the near future.

Power Outlet

The router and the modem need power. Most installations include an outlet right next to the patch panel.

Wiring Bracket

Decades ago the communication industry standardized their equipment to be mountable in what is called 19" racks. A rack is nothing more than a metal support frame with a 19" opening for equipment. It comes pre-drilled with mounting holes. Equipment compatible with the system can be mounted in a rack with a few screws.

Vertically the rack is divided into units or 'U's. Each unit is 1.75 inches of vertical space. That's an important metric for data centers, who have thousands of Us, but not for residential users. All you need to worry about is having enough Us for your equipment. Typically a single U is enough. I recommend getting a bracket supporting 3-4Us. The larger capacity only costs a few dollars more, but it will also allow you to expand your system in the future.

Since your equipment rack will only support a patch panel, it only needs to be a few inches deep. The deeper racks are made for servers.

Patch Panel

The patch panel is nothing more than a collection of Ethernet jacks. The jacks do not connect together. A patch panel is the equivalent of a phone switchboard from the early days of the telephone. Someone still has to make connection. That someone is the router, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The panel comes with different number of ports. Get a panel with about 1.5 times as many ports as you think you will need. Your system will expand in the future. There is no doubt about it.

You can also use multiple smaller panels instead of a single big one. Performance will be exactly the same. For example, a single 24 port panel is equivalent to two 12 port panels. The only difference is the physical space required doubles. Using two Us instead of one is not a bad thing, if you have the space. Datacenters typically don't have much space. That's why you see panels with ridiculous port densities.

Router: A router is a piece of electronics that routes messages on your network. It is the equivalent of the phone switchboard operator, except that it is capable of routing millions of messages a second. You need a router with as many ports as you have circuits in your house. Each port drives exactly one Ethernet outlet.

Beyond the number of ports you should look for a gigabit router (1000mbit). This number refers to the speed the router supports. Your wiring may not support the speed of the router, but gigabit routers are the norm today. There is no reason to by a previous gen model.

Dell (www.dell.com) has an excellent range of enterprise routers. Technically they are overkill for residential use. The smallest models however, are cheap enough to find a place in your home. I own one and find the connection to be 100% stable all the time. Other, cheaper routers probably provide the same quality of service, but an enterprise class product gives me a reason not to worry about something breaking.

Short patch cables

The last piece in the puzzle are plenty of short (2 ft) patch cables. The wires connect the ports of the router to the patch panel. The circuit is complete. The single flows from your computer into the wall jack, through the wire in the wall to the patch panel, then through the patch cable into the router. There the signal is routed to anther port and the journey begins anew in reverse.

How to connect the router

Your router typically has one uplink port. The other ports are normal ports. The uplink port is specially, because it is the only port the router will accept certain types of signals from. The technical details don't matter much. Just make sure you connect the modem to this port. The other ports can be connected to other circuits at random. The port numbers don't matter. Any one of the ports can drive any circuit.

The modem does not have to be in the same room as the router. I use a cable modem, which requires a connection to the home's cable system. There is not cable outlet in the hub room. There is one in my office. The office also has two Ethernet ports. I connected the modem to one of the ports. In the hub room I connected that circuit to the uplink port on the router. The router and the modem are 30ft apart in different rooms, but they are still connected directly through my Ethernet system in the walls of my home.

Summary

An Ethernet system can be installed by the homeowner. There is no reason to hire a telecommunications professional. The parts required are self explanatory in most cases. No calculations of any sort are required. Unless you have runs exceeding 200ft in your home. Give installing a try. You'll find out that it's much simpler than the picture of the wiring mess implies.

There are plenty of good shops online that will sell you the materials for a reasonable price. One of the nicer ones is www.monoprice.com. I have no affiliation with them, which should tell you just how good they are.

Related - Ethernet Series

About the Author
"Lorenz is the founder of Hingmy. When he is not reviewing power tools or improving the site, he is building things in his workshop or playing hockey."
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