Tech Tips: Wiring, A Lost Art?

July 3, 2017
Proper wire handling techniques are necessary to efficiently and legally install hardwired electronic access control and alarm components.

Many Locksmith Ledger readers are totally unfamiliar with wiring and perhaps that’s the way they want to keep it. You chose a career where you would be dealing with mechanical keys and locks, not wires, right?

Although it seems we are living in a wireless world, obviously wire is still used extensively, so having some knowledge about wiring is an advantage to individuals involved in professional security.

Many readers of The Locksmith Ledger may have had some experience with wire and wiring doing alarms or adding a receptacle in their homes. Although all wiring shares certain similarities, there are so many applications where wiring is employed, and they each have certain things that are unique.

When I entered the security industry, alarm systems were all ‘hard-wired.’ Although there were wireless panic buttons and garage door openers, wire was used everywhere else in security and access control system installation.

Installing wiring was challenging, since it involved drilling through walls and floors, then pulling wire from point A to point B. Since a professional alarm system protected every opening in the premises, the prewiring represented a substantial amount of labor and the total alarm budget.

Wiring is still required for access control since batteries aren’t forever and no one has invented a means to wirelessly transmit power.

Network cabling is very much present, and the security industry uses networking cable and infrastructure for video and security.

Building and fire codes address these issues. The National Electric Code (NEC) is the bible for electricians and cabling, among other things.

You can learn on the job, take classes or do self-study. I recommend a book by Mike Holt (, Understanding NEC Requirements for Limited Energy & Communications Systems.

Category cable has become one of my favorite wire types. It is readily available, inexpensive, and versatile.

We used to keep quad cable on the truck and use it for all sorts of things. It had four conductors. Category Cable has eight conductors greatly increasing the possibilities.

Network cable has become the backbone for the infrastructure of the Universe.

Plenum vs. Non-Plenum

It is important to note the difference between plenum and non-plenum cable. These terms apply to all wire types, not just Cat Cable.

Plenum-rated cable gets its name from an HVAC term—plenum spaces. The plenum spaces are those that lie between a drop and standard ceiling (or a similar version in the floor space) and it is this section where the air in a building circulates, thus aiding in heating and cooling functions.

Plenum spaces allow fire and smoke to travel quickly. By using plenum-rated cable, the levels of toxicity in the smoke would be lower since plenum cable is coated with a jacket that is typically made of flame-resistant material such as Teflon.

Non-plenum cable, which is otherwise known as PVC (polyvinyl chloride) cable, is the less expensive of the two choices.

Because plenum cable is considered to be less toxic, it is used in locations such as schools and hospitals.

It is a matter of code and life safety as to whether to use plenum. If you use non-plenum, and it is determined that plenum is required, you are liable, and you might be forced to pull the PVC and install plenum.

After some helpers screwed up and used the wrong cable a few times, I stopped carrying PVC on the truck.

“CAT” Cable

In 1991 the TIA/EIA-568-A standard was released (now revised to TIA/EIA-568-C) in an effort to define standards for telecommunications installations. In particular, the standard worked to define elements of balanced twisted pair cabling, fiber optic cabling and coaxial cabling, and the associated connectors.

The Cat, as you might know, is short for "Category." The term "Category" refers to the different levels of performance in signal bandwidth, attenuation and crosstalk associated with each cable's design.

Category 1 cables are a 2-pair copper UTP (Unshileded Twisted Pair) designed for POTS (plain old telephone systems). Capable of up to 1MHz bandwidth, Cat1 cables were once the most common telecommunications cables and were found in almost every home and office.

Cat 1, however, isn't capable of carrying data due to its very constricted bandwidth.

Category 2 cables have 4 twisted pairs. Bandwidth is 4Mbps.

Cat1 and Cat2 are name variations of Level 1 and Level 2 cables, which were originally defined by the low voltage distribution company Anixter International. (Anixter owns Clark Security now.)

Category 3 cabling commonly known as Cat3 or "station wire," is an unshielded twisted pair cable designed to carry data up to 10 Mbps. Cat3 is defined in the TIA 568-C standard and is still in use as a telephone wiring.

Category 4 cabling offered up to 16 Mbps of bandwidth and was commonly used in early 10Base-T networks. Cat4 is no longer recognized in TIA 568-C.

Category 5 cables are the most ubiquitous UTP networking cable. Category 5 enhanced cables are known as Cat5e and both offer 100MHz bandwidth. Cat5e is used in structured cabling for computer networks. Cat5e is also used for many A/V and telephony applications.

Cat 5E 350 MHZ comes in non plenum, plenum, shielded, non shielded, and direct burial.  It is suitable for data and security IP cameras, IP access control, intercom.

Cat 5E 350 MHZ shielded with FEP insulation and FEP jacket.  (Fluorinated Ethylene Polymer) is suitable for high temperature and oil and gas rated.  One would use this for TV or intercom to gas pumps, or any other location that it would be exposed to oil and gas.  Also in any of the following where a higher than normal temperature would be needed data and security IP cameras, IP access control, intercom

Category 6 (Cat6) is a standardized cable for Gigabit Ethernet and other network physical layers that is backward compatible with the Category 5/5e and Category 3 cable standards.

Cat6 provides up to 250MHz bandwidth. It's typically used in 1000Base-T (Gigabit Ethernet) and 10GBase-T (10-Gigabit Ethernet). Cat6a is an "augmented" Category 6 cable that offers up to 500MHz bandwidth. Cat6 is important in digital video applications such as HDBaseT also.

Cat 6 550MHZ also comes in non plenum, plenum, shielded, non shielded, direct burial, suitable for increased data capacities and security IP cameras, IP access control, intercom.

Cat 6E shielded with FEP insulation and FEP jacket is suitable for high temperature and oil and gas rated.  One would use this for TV or connections to gas pumps, or any other location that it would be exposed to oil and gas.  Also in any of the following where a higher than normal temperature would be needed data and security IP cameras, IP access control, intercom

Cat 6 A rated plenum and non plenum is used where increased bandwidth is needed, such as high data usage environments, schools, heavy work load offices and video applications as well, for example Digital Signage. This cable supports 10 GigE (10 Gigabyte Ethernet).

Cat 7 plenum is rated for faster transmission than Cat 6A and is once again used where increased bandwidth is needed.  High data usage environments, schools, heavy work load offices.  Video applications as well example digital Signage. This cable requires special connectors (GigaGate45) in order to deliver the faster transmission performance. This cable is not yet widely used.

Realize that the speed of the network will be limited by the slowest component on the network, but that by using the highest rated cable possible, you will minimize bottlenecks and optimize system performance. Proper cable handling and termination are part of the recipe for best network installation. If the client complains about the network’s performance, it is easier to upgrade a switch, than it is to rewire the site.

Windy City Wire

Windy City Wire® has been offering low-voltage wire innovations since 1994, developing solutions that generate significant results for its customers and provide comprehensive cable management solutions that save time on their projects from concept to completion.

Smartwire® cables and patented RackPack® Field Systems are solutions to real issues faced by integrators in the field every day.

All SmartWire cables are made in the USA out of the Bolingbrook headquarters, allowing Windy City Wire to have 100 percent quality control over products and the ability to quickly and easily create custom cables for customers based on their specific projects.

More Info:

Platinum Tools

Part of the installation process is terminating the cable, and in most situations where you are using Category cable, the terminations will be RJ-45 connectors.

Installing these connectors can be challenging, because the wires are relatively small in diameter, there are four pairs of them (that’s eight wires), and there is a color code which must be observed if the cable is to operate correctly.

After struggling with issues associated with installing these connectors, I transitioned to using Platinum Tools connectors and tools.

With conventional connectors, it may appear it is properly installed, but when you connect it to the circuit, you find you were wrong. If you mess up installing an RJ 45 connector, you usually cut the bad one off and you do it again.

Cables are completed way faster, with far less wasted materials and time; and the cables work properly when I use Platinum Tools connectors and tool, along with a cable tester.

Platinum’s  new ezEX-RJ45 system can be used on a wider range of category cable types than the original EZRJ45. The ezEX-RJ45® connectors feature a unique integrated Hi-Lo stagger load bar and allows ‘big’ conductors to pass through the front end of the connector making it easy to verify the wiring sequence before terminating.

ezEX-RJ45® Connector Features include:

  • Simple one piece/pass through design, no bars or liners
  • Rated up to 10 Gigabit for superior performance
  • Works with solid or stranded conductors from 24-22 AWG
  • FCC, RoHS 2 & UL compliant
  • Made in USA

 More Info:


After using several testers over the years, I currently use an IDEAL 62-200 cable tester, which is easy to use and very durable.

Many of my other testers failed after being used to test live circuits, and many of my testers failed after being dropped or otherwise mishandled.

The LinkMaster™ UTP/STP Tester can be used with UTP (Unshielded Twisted Pair) and STP (Shielded Twisted Pair) wiring. It checks continuity and configuration of wiring with unshielded and shielded modular plugs and tests for open circuits, shorts, miswires, reversals, and split pairs. SHIELD detection tests a cable’s shield integrity.

Note: Although the IDEAL LinkMaster™ jack contact main unit and remote are equipped with 8 position modular plug jacks, cables with smaller 6 position and 4 position connectors may also be tested.

Additional features include:

  • Main unit and one remote allow one person testing of T568A, T568B, 10Base-T, and Token Ring.
  • Remote has wiring chart identifying T568A and T568B wiring configurations.
  • DEBUG quickly identifies which cable pairs have a specific wiring fault.
  • Battery low LED indicates replacement is necessary.

More Info:

About the Author

Tim O'Leary

Tim O'Leary is a security consultant, trainer and technician who has also been writing articles on all areas of locksmithing & physical security for many years.