Communications is a critical function for every business. Despite all the advances in technology and data networking speeds and protocols, copper wiring remains a critical element for wiring commercial buildings, offices, and work locations. Adhering to the basics of wiring standards will ensure long-lived dependability and the flexibility to grow with your needs.Practically all intra-building telephone service is handled end-to-end on copper unshielded twisted pair (UTP) wiring. For data services in large buildings, depending upon the distance to be covered and the data speeds to be handled, either copper or fiber may be used to connect centralized wiring closets to computer rooms or the building entrance facility for wide area networks (WANs). Copper UTP wiring is typically run from the wiring closet to each individual office or work location. Additionally, copper UTP wiring can be used to provide video feeds and to connect increasingly sophisticated security systems with computer networks.Building wiring is broken into several subsystems to easily facilitate adds, moves, and changes. Not every building will need every subsystem, but this standardized design makes it relatively easy to install, administer, and troubleshoot wiring in just about any building.When constructing or renovating a commercial building, work with a local voice/ data wiring contractor who is familiar with the TIA-568 Commercial Building Wiring Standard. This and a sister standard, TIA-569, spell out what wiring should be installed, where it should be installed (locations), what pathways to use, how to test the system to ensure maximum performance, and the performance characteristics for Categories 3, 5, 5e, and 6 cables and connectors. It should be noted that, as of June 2002, TIA/EIA officially adopted a standard that defines the performance of Category 6 UTP cabling, and Cat 6 is rapidly becoming the de facto standard for commercial buildings.While it is often difficult to predict the future needs of specific tenants, it is certain all will have telephone service and most will have a computer network that allows information and centralized equipment, such as printers, to be shared. The computer network will typically provide access to the Internet via either a broadband modem (cable or DSL) or a dedicated T-1 or higher-capacity line, depending upon the number of users and the applications being used.To prepare for these needs, multiple runs of Category 5e or Category 6 cables are terminated at each work location. The TIA-568 standard specifies that at least two Category 3 or better cables be run to each location, but the norm today is three to four runs of Category 5e or 6. Each cable consists of four twisted pairs of copper wires. These multiple runs ensure that there are adequate jacks for the equipment in most offices, including telephones, fax machines, and computers. Upgrading to Category 5e or Category 6 wiring ensures that today’s networking technologies running at 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps can be easily supported. It is important to match the categories of both the connectors and wiring because the weakest link dictates the performance of the circuit.Proper installation is critical to the performance of the system. Qualified installers know how to handle the wire during installation and to be aware of such factors as pull strength, minimum bend radius, proper termination techniques, separation of communication cables from electrical wiring, and the importance of maintaining tight twists.William T. Black is vice president, Wire and Cable, at the Copper Development Association (www.copper.org or http://telecom. copper.org), New York City.