Choosing a Cabling & Wiring Provider
Need to upgrade or replace the cabling in your office? Choosing the right service provider to handle your networking project is essential. The network infrastructure (the wires, routers, racks, and outlets) should last 15 years, so you'll be living with the results for a long time. In addition, these physical components are the foundation for the entire network. Your telephone system or computer network will depend on the cabling to work as reliably as it should.
Here's a quick guide to help make your decision.
Choosing a cabling company
Choosing an installer is probably the most important aspect installing or upgrading your network. Even the best material will not withstand a bad installation. Here are a few tips to help you weed out the riskier installers.
- Qualifications- Check the technicians' credentials: installers should be individually licensed and insured. Certification from standards organizations like BICSI is another good sign. Highly-qualified installers are important because your project has to meet several sets of safety standards, notably the National Electronics Code and EIA/TIA standards. Providers who want to "save you money" by skimping on these requirements should be avoided at all costs.
- Solutions- Finding a company with a good end-to-end approach will help your project run as smoothly as possible. Look for cabling companies with a comprehensive approach to network design, installation, testing, and ongoing support. If applicable, find out if they can integrate your security and video wiring.
- Support and Service- Another key attribute to look for is outstanding customer support. If your network has problems somewhere down the line, you'll want the assurance that someone will be there quickly to diagnose and correct the problem. Ask about the hours that support is available, how many emergency technicians they have on hand, and what kind of guarantee they offer for response and resolution times.
- Itemized Bids- Make sure any bid you receive has a solid line item structure with materials and labor broken down into easily understood formatting. Lump bids are strictly for amateurs and says volumes about a company's solution methodology.
How will they run your project?
The process starts with a site visit to assess your existing wiring situation and get a sense of the physical requirements involved. If you're upgrading an existing network, the provider should be able to perform some simple tests to see what kind of capacity is available in your current network. That failing, they should be able to give you an idea about what you can gain in speed and stability after an upgrade.
- Tip: Make sure there is a provision for reclamation of the existing cabling that is being replaced. Leaving old cabling in your data racks, crawlspaces, and cable pathways increases the difficulty of servicing your network later and in some cases is a finable fire hazard. As a helpful tip, ask the installer how they plan to dispose of the reclaimed cabling.
Make sure the cabling provider you choose will provide thorough documentation of the entire network: you should get blueprints for the entire network architecture, and all wires and workstation outlets should be clearly labeled. Insufficient documentation can drastically increase the costs for future changes or troubleshooting.
If not handled with care, installation of a new voice or data network can cause significant disruption to your day-to-day work. Find out how prospective cabling providers will minimize distractions, how well they clean up after themselves, and if they're willing to do particularly disruptive work (e.g., drilling in employee areas) before or after your primary business hours. You should be able to continue working on your old network until the new system is tested and ready for the changeover. At that point, you'll probably experience a short downtime, so plan accordingly.
Cabling and wiring pricing
Installing a new network is a big investment up front. When you divide the costs over the expected lifespan of the wiring, though, you'll find that it actually makes up a fairly small percentage of your overall IT spending over the same time period.
The actual costs will vary dramatically based on both the physical characteristics of the space you're wiring and the type of installation you choose. A rough guideline for data networks is around $100 to $150 per end point or "drop," but extremes can vary even more.
If you're getting more than 100 drops (cable lines installed), and your building has easy-access cable conduits or pathways in place, you may see a per-drop price as low as $75. On the other hand, for a relatively small project that includes voice and data, and has to contend with pulling cables into attics and crawlspaces, you could pay as much as $250 per drop.
- Tip: Finding a cable installer to purchase the required materials for you can save you money as well. While there might be a mark-up in price by the vendor, typically you will still save over purchasing your materials direct. Cable vendors buy in enough bulk to save massive amounts of money. Cat5e, for example might cost a vendor as little as $.03 a foot whereas buying it over the counter would cost nearly twice as much. Additionally, they will only charge you for what is used so you save money by not paying for full boxes.
Because of this variation, it's important to get comprehensive written estimates from each provider you're evaluating. Don't just compare the bottom line, either: go through each proposal and look for line items that are conspicuously omitted in some cases. Unscrupulous suppliers may try to win your business with a low bid, then "discover" additional reasons to up your costs.
One tip to keep in mind: most of the cost is in the labor. That means it's not worth trying to save money by choosing cheaper cables or racks. In fact, it often makes sense to pull additional lines per workstation - the incremental cost is fairly low, and the excess capacity is there waiting if you need it.Ready to Compare Cabling and Wiring Price Quotes?