Almost wired for ethernet...
July 3, 2012 3:43 PM   Subscribe

Looks like we have a half-finished ethernet setup in our new place. How do I make this functional?

We found this in one of the bedroom closets. There are a bunch of cat5 jacks spread throughout the same room (maybe someone wanted a home office?) plus one in the living room. There are also a whole mess of wires in the basement, some unterminated, some attached to jacks dangling from the joists. I'd like to finish this and add a couple more ports in the living room to get everything wired up.

So, what do I need to finish this job? I know I need a large hub/switch, but anything else? Also, how do I figure out where all these wires go? Most of the ports are unlabeled, and the cables in the basement are a mess. Is there a way to figure out where the unterminated cables go? Anything else I should consider before buying anything?

One related point - I will still be adding wifi (presumably by plugging our existing wifi router into the large switch I'll be buying). How do I make sure that the devices on the wireless can still see the wired computers and vice versa? Is it enough to have everyone on the same workgroup?
posted by backseatpilot to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You'll want what's called a "toner" or "cable toner" to figure out which line goes to which outlet.

Get a switch, not a hub.

After that, it's just the annoying grunt work of toning out every last cable and making sure that the outlets you want to be active are active. I recommend a headlamp!
posted by kavasa at 3:50 PM on July 3, 2012

Honestly, I bet it's not Cat5. I would bet it's Cat3 and its for phone/fax. Cat 3 uses similar wire to cat 5, but you can do all sorts of things to it that won't fly for ethernet.

That said, you might get computers to talk on it. But I doubt gigabit will be possible. 10 or 100 most likely; I've been impressed with some of the very rickety plants you can get a 100mbit signal down.*

Anyway, to make this work, you'll need at a minimum a switch and wireless router. Depending on the router, wired and wireless networks can share a subnet**. So the configuration would be roughly Modem --> Router --> Switch in the simplest case***.

To find where the wires go, you'll need a tone generator or a ethernet cable tester. These run a few bucks. I'd recommend the cable tester - a good one can do line verification (correct pins, untwisted length, etc.).

If you want to use this as an opportunity to learn, this is a good one, and you're going have an opportunity to learn a lot. If you want this to be easy, you should probably call a local small/medium business home networking company and pay the few hundred bucks to get this to work.

* if the cable is no good, don't fret. You can pull good wire behind the old wire, assuming it's not stapled in.

** This is a terrible idea from a security perspective, but the model gets more complicated if you are sufficiently paranoid. You didn't ask this, so I won't derail too much, but there are smarter ways to do this, too.

*** operating system networking questions are another question entirely. The answers will depend on what you plan to do, with what and to what extent. That said, for basic windows networking with Vista/win7 computers, having them in the same "workgroup" is ~90% of the job.

posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:33 PM on July 3, 2012

Seconding that this looks like phone installation, not a network installation, and thus the cabling may or may not be CAT5. Can you read the designations "CAT5" or "CAT5e" or "CAT6" printed anywhere on the cable jacket?
posted by contraption at 5:52 PM on July 3, 2012

How do I tell if it's cat 3 or cat 5 cabling? The jacks in that room all have "cat5e" stamped on them, and it looks like all of the female receptacles have a corresponding small wire from the cable attached to them.

Also, what does that white breakout panel have to do with the rest of it? Just messiness?
posted by backseatpilot at 5:52 PM on July 3, 2012

Actually, I think I just answered my own question with thirty seconds of wikipedia. I think there might be a mix of cat3 and cat5e going in to that patch panel. Still don't know what the white panel is for (or why you would need 12 phone jacks in one room...).
posted by backseatpilot at 5:54 PM on July 3, 2012

The white panel is a punch panel that allows you to tie many phones to one incoming line. Or one phone to many incoming lines. Or some variation thereof.

The physical wire may be cat5 - and that would be good news - but to use it for data there are limits to how much untwisted wire you can have (1/2" total per cable run, IIRC).

Anyway, you'd want to replace the phone punch panel with an ethernet punch panel - minding your untwisted cable lengths.

Those can be a bit pricey -(Lowes and Home Depot carry them if you have no other source) you can just get a bunch of ethernet jacks and do that for cheaper. Looks ghetto though, but works. Also, you don't need a punch down tool - small needlenose pliers and a bit of patience will do - but it makes it *much* easier.

You'll need an ethernet cable tester - especially if you haven't done this before.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:15 PM on July 3, 2012

Get a 16 port switch and some cables. Plug all of the connected ethernet jacks into the switch. Serve and enjoy.

The white panel is likely due to a telco-based Internet connection. Note the single cable between the white and black, the telephone line would get punched down at the other side of the connection on the panel as that end of the gray cable. Then, on the black side there was likely an RJ11 jack for a telephone line that then got plugged into their cable modem or T1 router or whatever. Just a little overengineering, no biggie. If you already have something like that, or a cable modem hooked up directly to one of the computers on the other jacks, then you might need to futz with some network settings, but likely they'll be able to find their way out on their own if you already had it working at your old place.
posted by rhizome at 6:58 PM on July 3, 2012

If the wifi router is in bridge mode, everybody will be able to see everybody. Just plug it into one of the connected jacks either out in a room or directly to a leftover port on the switch.
posted by rhizome at 7:00 PM on July 3, 2012

For patch panels and cables check out their prices are generally the lowest (shockingly so)

It might be easier to start fresh and use the existing cables to pull new higher quality cables through the wall (cat 6 cables have come down in price) than to deal with the headaches trying to figure out why something isn’t working with your existing cabling.

As far as the Wi-Fi on the same network. Buy a wireless router and connect the WAN side to your internet provider and the LAN side to the switch you were talking about buying. That way the wireless router’s DHCP server will provide IP address to both wireless and wired devices and they will all be able to see each other.
posted by TeknoKid at 7:07 PM on July 3, 2012

The "white panel" is a 66 block. That one was installed by an amateur, so any and all rules are null and void. We have a great JPG somewhere of someone having soldered satin cable to the terminals of a 66 block...

Anyways, the idea of the 66 block is that the house lines (that is, the wires that run to each house jack or phone) run to the 66 block, and are permanently punched down to the terminals closest to the edge, usually on just one side of the 66 block. Each row is normally two separate pairs of contacts, "A" and "B" are connected, "C" and "D" are connected. The way I learned, "customer" or "house" side is always the right side, but you can do it either way. The following may help you picture this.

It's backwards from my point of view (house lines on the left) but neat and nice and routes each line to a separate CO (central office) line. The bridge clips over the two middle terminals causes the house to be connected to the CO, and they can be removed for easy testing or puttering. No one would have any problems working on that guy's phones.

The bridge clip method isn't the only way to do this sort of thing, and there's really no one absolutely positively right way to do it, but there are lots of wrong ways. A good 66 block install primarily should be neat and understandable.

That's almost excessively neat.

So here's the quick analysis of your photo's 66 block. It was done by an amateur, one who didn't bother with a stand (potentially excusable). It looks like the house lines are punched down on the left side. Since house lines are intended to be permanent, that means that any wiring to your demarc happens on the right side, meaning that you have to work with a punch tool up against a wall. This set of choices screams "amateur," given how easy it would have been to put them the traditional way and avoid that. The lines that run into the wall are unsecured. Just askin' for trouble.

You wouldn't be losing any value by ripping out and starting over.

If the wires that run to the 66 block are Cat3, you have the potential to use that for 10Mbps ethernet. Do not try to use it for 100Mbps or gigE. It won't work, or worse, won't work *well*, and you will get very frustrated.
posted by jgreco at 4:59 AM on July 4, 2012

I just realized I kind of got sidetracked on my response a bit.

I meant to mention:

It is likely that the previous occupant had some sort of business or hobby that required some amount of telecommunications capacity. For example, in the 1990's, it would have been fairly common for the operator of a small multi-line BBS to have a setup very similar to what you've outlined here. The 66-block setup can be used to deal with virtually any copper pair circuit Ma Bell provides, from POTS to ISDN to DSL to T1. The 8P8C patch panel, well, it's real hard to see exactly what it is, but was likely for ethernet, as everybody else has already identified.
posted by jgreco at 7:11 AM on July 4, 2012

Just got back from doing some work in the condo, and the 66 block definitely has cat5 running to it. Difficult to tell exactly where those wires are going, but I ordered a cable tester which should be here in a few days.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:15 PM on July 4, 2012

I've traced down some of the wiring so far, but there's still a huge mess that I have not quite figured out. From what I can tell, there are two keystone plates in that same room - each one has 4 ethernet jacks and two phone lines. The ethernet jacks all correspond to the labeling on the punch panel, which is nice. Then things start to get weird.

There's a port on the punch panel labeled "dining room" but there are no jacks of any kind in the dining room. There's a cat5e line running into the living room, but I don't think it's terminated anywhere and it certainly isn't hooked up to the punch panel. I also found several lines running into the basement, some terminated and some not. One of them is connected to the punch panel (labeled, even!) and another one that looks like it goes into the upstairs unit that's labeled "3rd floor". Everything is in the same handwriting. Some of it goes outside to what looks like a telco box, but this being a very old building there's enough wiring running in and out of the basement to string around the block and back.

I'm probably going to end up ripping out most of the wiring and replacing just what we want, but I think I need to talk to the upstairs neighbor first to make sure they weren't sharing this setup. Thanks for the help!
posted by backseatpilot at 6:03 AM on July 12, 2012

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