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The Drop List

Once the lists are generated and confirmed with other family members, they need to have "drop" information added. A "drop" is a run of a particular cable type between the location of a central wiring panel and location(s) on room wall(s). There are plenty of manufacturers and installers who insist that using a "structured wiring" system with pre-packaged wiring cabinets and cable bundles is the only way to go today. And if you outsource the job to professional installers, that's most likely what they'll use.

But no matter what bleeding-edge technologies service providers use to get their wares to your home's doorstep, you can construct a very nice distribution system capable of handling web, data and multimedia distribution by using a combination of only high grade coax and UTP (Unshielded Twisted Pair) cabling. This simple approach gives you lots of options for cable installation, keeps cost to a minimum and can provide future expansion capability.

For coax, RG 6 (with a solid center conductor) is the way to go. You might save a few bucks using the less-expensive RG 59, but you'll need the RG 6 to support connection between a satellite dish and receiver. And even if you don't have satellite TV, RG 6 has lower signal loss characteristics and is cheap "future-proofing" insurance.

Table 3 is taken from Part 2 of our LAN Party How To is a summary of commonly-available UTP cabling types. As that article describes, misinformation on CAT5 and CAT6 UTP cable and its variants abounds. But when you cut through it all, the selection comes down to one between CAT 5e and CAT 6. I decided to go with CAT 5e for both data and phone use, for reasons you'll see later. CAT5e will support gigabit Ethernet, which will handle anything you'll need to pipe around the house just fine.

Cable Category Generally used for
3 Telephone wiring, legacy 10 Mbps-only Ethernet, legacy 4-Mbps token-ring
4 16-Mbps token-ring. Not commonly used
5 10 / 100 Mbps Ethernet. Considered "legacy" and replaced by CAT 5e
5e 10 / 100 / 1000 Mbps Ethernet
6 10 / 100 / 1000 Mbps Ethernet. CAT 6 cable supports higher bandwidth (200 MHz vs. 100 MHz) and has better electrical characteristics than CAT 5e.
Table 3: UTP cable categories

If you decide to use CAT 6, that's OK too. But don't install it as a hedge against upgrading your network to 10 gigabit Ethernet at some point, because it's unlikely you're ever going to need it. Same goes for fiber. Keep it as part of a healthy diet, but out of your walls. Then take the money you save and invest it in a larger flat-panel display, which you'll get way more use from.

Upper Level
Location Primary Activities Secondary Activities Data Video Phone
Living Room - Satellite TV w/ DVR
- Large screen TV
- Music

- Web
- Phone
1 3 1
Living Room closet Alternative location for
Living Rm. gear
1 3 1
Kitchen - Comm. center
(phone, messages)
- Small TV
- Web 1 1 1
Breakfast - Small TV - Web
- Phone
0 0 0
Dining - None - Phone 0 0 0
Master Bedroom - Small TV - Phone 1 1 1
Table 4: Upper Level Activity vs. Location Drop List

The Drop Lists in Tables 4 and 5 are just Tables 1 and 2 with columns added to enter the number of Data, Video and Phone drops for each location. Although I used both CAT 5e cable for both Data and Phone drops, I kept separate counts for phone and data drops because of the way that I wanted to organize my wiring panels. Video drops were, of course, done with RG 6.

Lower Level
Location Primary Activities Secondary Activities Data Video Phone
Office - Web
- Business phone and fax
- Home phone
- Small TV 2 2 1
Studio - Satellite TV w/ DVR
- Large screen TV
- Music
- Phone 2 3 2
Guest - Small TV - Phone 1 1 1
Laundry - Small TV - Phone 1 1 1
Utility Central wiring panel   - - -
Storage None   1 1 1
Table 5: Lower Level Activity vs. Location Drop List

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