March 1, 2018

Cable Management Challenges & Best Practices

Cable installations for in-building wireless networks can be cumbersome to install and difficult to maintain. With an increasing consumer and business demand for higher performance, and with a larger number of devices connected to any given network, it’s important that the cabling that forms the backbone of a network is installed correctly and future-proofed. Taking a closer look at unexpected challenges and best practices can help building owners save money on their cable investments.

Unexpected Challenges: Aesthetic Versus Efficiency, Ongoing Construction, & New Venue Features

Each building has unique architecture and challenges that complicate cable installation and management. These problems include the need to conceal networking equipment for ambiance, installing systems during construction, and the impact of new building alterations on previously-installed systems. Take, for instance, some distributed antenna system (DAS) installations ADRF has done in the past: the historic Fox Theater, the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park, and the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium.

Fox Theater, a 90-year-old historic building in Atlanta, lacked connectivity for both its staff and the 750K patrons who attend the 280 shows in the main theater and 350 events in the ballrooms each year. With thick concrete walls and below grade elevations, the building posed a serious in-building network problem made more complicated by its historic preservation efforts. When implementing remotes for a fiber DAS, there was a lot to consider, specifically with very public facing areas such as the three in the main lobby, two in the Egyptian Ballroom, and two in the Mezzanine. In order to conceal the equipment for Fox Theater’s ambiance, antennas were strategically placed behind ornate woodwork and light fixtures, and even attached to exit signs. A key takeaway from the Fox Theater project was that installment locations need to be strategically chosen, especially when maintaining a building’s aesthetic is a high priority for the venue owner. After the installation was complete, Fox Theater’s historic beauty remained intact and cellular signal was properly boosted from the hidden equipment.

Another aspect to consider when installing cables is ongoing construction, especially if it’s a brand new building in the making. From an outside perspective, it makes intuitive sense that laying cable at the same time a building is being built would be optimal. However, it’s also inaccurate.  The cables required to run a network can be incredibly fragile. For example, take into consideration the Atlanta Braves’ stadium, SunTrust Park. While under construction, the venue had trucks, bulldozers, and hundreds of people working at all hours, which created the environment in which cables needed to be laid multiple times due to construction interference. The stadium’s approach to cable installation relied heavily on consistent coordination with the general contractor, which would not have been necessary if the installation had been deployed after stadium construction had finished. Despite its initial installation challenges, the stadium has seen 100% uptime throughout its system, and 100% connectivity across its employee base.  

In addition to newly built stadiums, other stadiums with added enhancements or those that are undergoing makeovers may face a variety of cable management challenges as well. For instance, when the Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium completed its biggest makeover attraction: the stadium’s canopy, the new roof blocked the necessary radio frequencies required for adequate wireless network connectivity. The canopy protected the majority of fans from the elements, but it drastically affected their cellular connectivity. To solve the problem, the cable installations at the Hard Rock Stadium had to be repositioned in order to solve the connectivity problem the canopy caused. To learn more about handling cable management during major stadium construction, read this Wireless Design Magazine article by Mohammed Ali, ADRF In-Building & DAS Engineer.

Cable Installation & Management Best Practices

An important best practice is to make sure cables are installed in an organized manner because poorly clustered cables can cost more money later on. If an installation requires a technician to come in for a routine maintenance check or to replace a part, the unorganized cables will cause the technician to spend more time working, leading to higher labor costs building owners will have to pay.

A good way to avoid poorly clustered cables is to use zip ties or velcro to organize cables securely by kind and firmly holding them together. Clustering cables in this way and methodically and strategically installing them not only makes technician’s jobs easier later on, but also reduces cable bend stress which is damaging and could ultimately affect connectivity.

Similar to each unexpected challenge from the case studies above, building owners should consider ways to prevent cable problems from occurring before they happen. This includes making sure cables are tucked away or covered completely. For instance, floor cord covers not only prevent a liability such as a person tripping in the building, but also prevent damage to the cables themselves.

When installing cables for active fiber DAS, location is also crucial to consider as emphasized by the case studies above. For all types of buildings, space is usually a limiting factor for installations of both the Head-end and Remote Units, including multiple RF, fiber, alarm, and power connections. Installing cable management panels above and below the chassis for cable routing between modules is ideal; however, if only one cable management panel can be installed due to limited space or other architectural reasons, be sure to route all the connections through the one panel. For both single and multiple Head-ends, the order of connecting the POI/Ls and ODUs does not matter, so the best way to install them is to choose the most convenient port for each on the CHCs. For medium power remotes, cabling for rack mounting or wall mounting is identical. When installing the front, the ORU should be in the left-most slot and the PSU should be in the right-most slot. Similarly, high power remotes can also be installed identically for rack mounting or wall mounting. Following these installation best practices, building owners can mitigate problems further down the line regarding power management and connectivity.

Another aspect to consider when installing cables is leaving room for future growth. As technology develops, so will the need to install, reinstall, upgrade, and enhance cable installations. To save future costs, building owners should be sure to save space for change.

Every building requires its own unique cable infrastructure solution, however, by being aware of potential challenges and following installation best practices for preventive measures, all building owners can better ensure the success of their cabling deployment.

To download ADRF’s ADXV DAS Cable Management Guide, register on MyADRF.