Cable-routing solutions in modular furniture

June 1, 2005
Mount-on-top and other raceway designs answer the challenge of open-office cabling.

Mount-on-top and other raceway designs answer the challenge of open-office cabling.

Information-technology managers across the globe are now, or soon will be, deploying more-efficient high-speed, private, secure networks, lightning-speed Internet connections, Voice over IP (VoIP) phone systems, and technologies still on the horizon.

The Pan-Way non-metallic office furniture raceway sits directly atop a modular furniture panel and provides user accessibility to connections.
Click here to enlarge image

Many of these technologies include sophisticated equipment in the telecommunications room (TR) and at the desktop. Considerable time and money is spent making sure components are compatible, power is available, software is capable, and so on. Often overlooked, however, are the necessary cabling and the associated pathway infrastructure that will route cables from the TR to the desktop.

In offices or where employee workstations are along a common wall, the wall typically becomes the pathway of choice for cabling installers. If the cabling cannot run inside the walls, perimeter raceway systems are available in both metal and non-metallic styles, in a variety of sizes and capacities, to address the routing needs. (For a table of metallic and non-metallic raceway manufacturers and their products, see page 58.)

Open-office obstructions

Office environments that use modular furniture systems pose a different challenge for the cabling installer. When modular furniture was first introduced, there were limited problems associated with the routing of voice cables adjacent to the electrical system in the cubicle walls. Initially, voice termination manufacturers offered faceplates that can be installed in “knockouts” in the base of the panel walls. Today, although connectivity manufacturers offer the same termination option, the panel pathways tend to be riddled with potential problems that could hamper the performance of the larger or more-delicate data cabling-location of termination, pathway obstacles, limited pathway capacity, electrical-distribution systems, lack of bend-radius control, and furniture-reconfiguration limitations are just a few of the problems.

From the start, having the point of data termination at the base of the modular furniture panel wall is far from ideal. Besides the obvious constraint of being located under a desk with low visibility, the simple requirement of cable placement itself can be challenging. Pulling and “fishing” the data cabling around sharp metal edges, panel-leveling feet, and power wiring can be dangerous for the cable and for the installer.

Even if you are successful at routing and termination, the equipment that will use the data ports typically rests on the work surface, requiring patch cords to be routed from the work surface to the floor level. In many installations, these patch cords are left lying on the floor under the workstation. In a situation like this, both the cord and the termination port are subject to the risk of damage caused by floor scrubbers, vacuum cleaners, employee feet, and items stored under the work surface. Any problem with an individual connection requires a network technician’s time to correct the problem, and that causes disruption to workers in several adjacent workstations.

Additionally, applications exist in which cabling requirements have exceeded the pathway capacity of many furniture systems, due in part to the size and number of cables required at each workstation. In some cases, another contributing factor is the increasingly complex electrical system. Often, electrical systems include several independent circuits, which are necessary to support the growing number and type of desktop equipment, such as a computer, printer, scanner, and copier. Each of these circuits is routed through the furniture, and as these systems take up more of the available data pathway, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a clear installation path through the furniture.

Another installation consideration is appropriate bend radius in the pathway. While too small a bend radius on data cables can adversely affect network performance, bend-radius requirements also apply to the patch cord that connects the workstation outlet to the desktop equipment. Industry groups, such as the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA;, have specific standards that define best practices for routing all types of cable, including unshielded twisted-pair, coaxial, and optical fiber. Specifically, the TIA/EIA-568-B Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling Standard and the TIA/EIA-569-B Commercial Building Standard for Telecommunications Pathways and Spaces apply to cable routing and pathways.

If you’re unable to successfully route all of the necessary cabling through the furniture, what was once a flexible office environment now becomes constrained by the data cabling. As office environments continually change-typical time between furniture reconfigurations is six to nine months-avoiding cable-routing problems is a constant challenge.

To solve these problems, cabling-system users may consider upgrading their furniture installation with new data pathways to accommodate the requirements of their chosen technological-advancement level. This will give you an opportunity to recommend a cabling and pathway solution that may save the customer cost and future frustration.

Addressing the problem

To address the various problems inherent in routing cable within a modular-furniture environment, you could consider zone cabling, or zone distribution. Although the integration of a zone distribution system will not address the internal routing of cable within modular furniture, it will alleviate some of the cost of relocating wired furniture by reducing the amount of cabling affected, speeding reconfiguration, and minimizing employee disruption.

Zone distribution is based on dividing the floor space into zones and installing an enclosure in each that houses an intermediate connection (or consolidation point), which can be active or passive depending on the user’s needs. In place of multiple home-run cables, bundled copper cables or a fiber backbone runs to the intermediate connection. From that point, cables or patch cords run to individual workstations.

Zone cabling enables more efficient use of the furniture system’s flexibility and reduces the costs associated with moves, adds, and changes (MACs). Furthermore, MAC-induced disruption is minimized and affects only those users within the zone that is being changed.

Another potential solution is to incorporate an additional pathway onto the existing furniture systems. To the end user, this additional pathway eliminates the need to purchase new furniture systems simply to accommodate technological upgrades.

The optimum choice for adding a pathway to existing office furniture is a non-metallic office furniture raceway, which is a cost-effective way to retrofit existing office furniture systems with new or upgraded data cabling.

Because this raceway is designed to mount directly to the top of existing furniture partitions, installation time, occupant disturbance, and system downtime is minimized. Non-metallic office furniture raceway systems offer network connections that are accessible to the end user, with routing and termination designs that resist tampering or unauthorized access. Pathways are unrestricted, providing accessibility and bend-radius control to maintain cable performance.

When you’re looking to minimize the time, costs, performance issues, and frustrations commonly found with cable routing in the open-office environment, consider the opportunities of zone cabling and non-metallic office furniture raceway. These solutions can restore the flexibility and advantages of modular office furniture, and extend the useful life of existing furniture systems to best serve their users.

Click here to view the Product Update of Raceways

STEVE LYTLE is business-development manager at Panduit Corp. (

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