Horizontal and Backbone Cabling Explained

July 29, 2020 | Blue Wave Communications

Cable installations for computer systems and networks can be both complex and specific. Two indispensable main cabling methods used in structured cabling are horizontal and backbone cabling. These two methods make up some of the most basic components of structured cabling. 

Although they are different, horizontal and backbone cabling complement each other and are necessary for different types of cabling environments and specifications. 

What Does Backbone Cabling Consist Of?

Backbone cabling can be described as cabling that delivers interconnection between entrance facilities, equipment rooms, and telecommunication rooms and is usually installed from floor to floor but can also be installed between IT rooms on the same floor. 

The standard backbone cable definition set by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) states that:

“The function of the backbone cabling is to provide interconnections...Backbone cabling consists of the backbone cables, intermediate and main cross-connects, mechanical terminations, and patch cords or jumpers used for backbone-to-backbone cross-connection. Backbone cabling also includes cabling between buildings.”

Backbone wiring and cabling can be separated into two types, inter-building and intra-building cabling. While inter-building backbone wiring is installed between buildings, intra-building cabling is installed between IT rooms within a single building. 

The Main Backbone Cabling Components

The essential components of backbone cabling include: 

  • Cable pathways to provide routing spaces for the cabling. This can include options such as shafts, raceways, conduits, or floor penetrations like sleeves or slots. 
  • Connecting hardware such patch panels, connecting blocks, interconnections, or cross-connections. Sometimes, connecting hardware can be a combination of these options. 
  • Backbone wiring itself, which could be optical fiber, coaxial, twisted-pair copper, or a combination of these cable types. 
  • Necessary support facilities if needed, such as cable support hardware or grounding and firestopping hardware. 

What is Horizontal Cabling?

Horizontal cabling extends from a Telecommunications Room or enclosure out to the individual workstation outlets or Work Area Outlet (WAO). Generally, it is installed in a star topology that links each work area to the telecommunications room. 

Copper cabling (CAT5e, CAT6, CAT6a) is the most common type used for the Horizontal runs, however, fiber optic and coaxial cables can also be used. It is important to point out that horizontal cabling, regardless of the cable type, must be limited to 90 meters in length between the Work Area Outlet and the termination point in the telecommunications room in order to meet TIA standards

Differences Between Horizontal and Backbone Cabling 

Backbone and horizontal cabling differ in the areas they cover. While backbone cabling connects entrance facilities, equipment rooms, and telecommunications rooms, horizontal cabling connects telecommunications rooms to individual outlets throughout the building’s floors. Backbone cabling also runs between floors, whereas horizontal wiring should not. There are circumstances where horizontal cables for workstations on one floor may be routed to a telecommunications room on a different floor but this is not a recommended practice nor does it change the designation to “Backbone” even though the cables may run vertically. 

The two structure cabling methods also have separate specifications. Though they may use the same type of cables, backbone cabling has certain requirements since it passes between floors. It must be strong enough to support its own weight and be secured correctly to pass properly between floors. 

Additionally, both horizontal and backbone cabling must adhere to specific fire-rating specifications, which will vary from project to project. This is relatively straightforward for horizontal cables, but backbone cabling (and inter-building backbone, in particular) can get complicated when the cables are routed underground. It is best to check with your structured cabling contractor to make sure the correct type of cable is being used for the environment in which they are being installed.  

Choosing the Right Structured Cabling Partner

Since backbone and horizontal cabling are integral components of structured cabling, it’s important to have a qualified cabling contractor design and install your cabling infrastructure. A substandard design and a poor installation job can cause a plethora of inconvenient and expensive problems down the road for your business. 

Blue Wave Communications has been a trusted cabling contractor for designing and installing high-quality structured cabling systems with years of experience helping customers throughout the South Florida area with their cabling needs. With Blue Wave, you can be assured that your backbone and horizontal cabling installations are done correctly the first time with prompt and professional service. 

Interested in how we can help your organization? Reach out to Blue Wave to get a quote for a low voltage installation (or another cabling-related service) today.


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