Please help identify this coax/data cable exchange
December 12, 2016 7:48 AM   Subscribe

In the house we're buying (hopefully), downstairs in the closet with the electrical panel, there is an an exchange of coaxial and data/phone connections. It's a bit more complicated and interesting-looking than anything I've dealt with in the past. Here are some photos. What is it? What is it used for? Can I do anything cool with it?

As can be quickly seen in the photos, the central part of this conglomeration of stuff is a Leviton Distribution Board. I can see that. And I can Google that, but I'd like to get a better answer, both in terms of helping me understand what it is generally in layman's terms, and in terms of understanding what this particular one might be for and how it could potentially used in my home.

Is it something I use or something a cable/internet/phone tech uses? Is it meant to be used in conjunction with the adjacent coaxial/cable stuff or do they just happen to be side-by-side?

For the purposes of calibrating your response, consider my A/V skills as way above average, my DIY home electronics aptitude as average-ish, and my networking/routing knowledge as somewhere between non-existent and embarrassing.
posted by DirtyOldTown to Technology (6 answers total)
Well the coax is probably used for cableTV (do you have multiple televisions?) and the leviton board seems to be for phone / data... I would start unplugging stuff and see what breaks? Do you have a home phone / security system that calls into a central office?

In terms of what cool things you can do with it, I would start with asking: what cool stuff do you _want_ to do? Maybe this could be used for a DIY security system?
posted by joecacti at 8:14 AM on December 12, 2016

That Leviton thing with the flat silver cables hanging off of it is a patch panel, rated for Cat5e (hence good enough for gigabit ethernet). Cables that go elsewhere through the house get punched down into the white toothed blocks with a punchdown tool, then Ethernet patch cables go from the jacks to a network switch (that wood shelf looks like a fine place for one). Looks like only a couple cables are punched down to it, and I see a bundle of what are probably Cat5e cables hanging in the back. You could use a tone and probe set to figure out where exactly those cables go. Hopefully they go to Cat5e jacks in various rooms, and have all the wires inside punched down to the jacks (instead of just 1 or 2, which is only appropriate for voice instead of data). If they're not, you can use the same punchdown tool to punch the wires down into the jacks. Then use a cable tester to make sure all the wires are connected.

Once everything's punched down and then patched into a switch (or just the LAN ports on a home router) you can have devices in different rooms house connect via hardwired ethernet instead of having to deal with potentially flaky WiFi. You could also use the hardwired ethernet to connect multiple WiFi access points throughout your house so you can blanket your home with good WiFi.

Hopefully this doesn't all sound crazy or hard to do, but if you're good with A/V stuff, this kind of structured wiring stuff shouldn't be too tough.
posted by zsazsa at 8:51 AM on December 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Is it something I use or something a cable/internet/phone tech uses?
Mostly for your use, but would provide a handy test point for the tech.

Is it meant to be used in conjunction with the adjacent coaxial/cable stuff or do they just happen to be side-by-side?
Just happen to be side-by side.

The item on the left is a cable splitter, to allow you to connect your incoming cable signal to multiple rooms at the same time. Presumably, there are cable jacks in the walls in the other rooms of the house that are at the other end of each of those cables.

The item on the right appears to be a Leviton 47606-AHT, which has three separate components:
The one on the left is a networking distribution panel. You'd terminate the network cables to each room on the punch downs to the left and right side, and then use a short patch cable to connect the center connection to whatever networking equipment you like. Most likely, you'd install a modem & router in the closet, then and use the short patch cables (or longer replacements) to patch each room to the router, which would allow you to have a wired connection to any room in the house. (I'm assuming the white cables to the far right are un-terminated Cat5/Cat6 cables that go to each room?) You could install an expansion module if you want more than 6 cables terminated.

The one in the middle is a distribution panel for telephones--you could also use the white cables to provide a phone jack instead, which would allow you to have multiple phone lines connected however you want to each room.

The one on the right is another cable splitter--not sure why they've gotten a standalone one too.

As far as cool stuff--you can use the wires for any low-voltage thing you like--including patching two rooms to each other, instead of to equipment in the closet. You're limited only by your creativity and the number of cables run to each room.
posted by yuwtze at 8:54 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cable TV on the left, Ethernet on the right. Buy an Ethernet switch to plug those grey cables into.
posted by w0mbat at 11:06 AM on December 12, 2016

This house's previous owner was an electrician who filled the house with can lights on specialized dimmers, some of which have remotes. I wonder if this is related to that.

I wonder if the lights are already on smart switches. I have an Amazon Echo. That would be awesome.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:12 PM on December 12, 2016

So here's what I found out.... The previous owner wired much of the house with Cat5e cables. He did it for the specific purpose of using it for phones, but he wired the stuff on enough pins that in some cases, I have been able to use it for ethernet. He was meticulous but maybe a little weird, as he seems to have labeled multiple rooms "Living Room," multiple rooms "Office," and has several lines going into the attic, which is extra weird as it's a tiny cramped attic of the kind that cannot even be used for small storage.

Eh well. Still plenty to figure out. He did have some of those dimmers on remotes, though, so that's cool.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:53 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

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