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A Guide To Patch Panels

Oct 12, 2007
We are all familiar with black and white films where the stars needed to be patched through to one another by an operator. Although this practice no longer continues the technology used at the telephone exchange has developed and has many uses for in the modern world. Also known as a jackfield or patch bay, patch panels are the modern incarnation of this technology.

What are patch panels?
A patch panel is a hardware unit, typically rack mounted, that contains a group of sockets in an
electrical or communications system. They look like switchboards and connect incoming and outgoing lines in communications and electronic systems.

What do Patch Panels do?
The patch panel allows circuits to be arranged and rearranged manually by plugging and unplugging the patch cords. Equipment can be inter-connected in various configurations. They provide a flexible way of routing restoration for a variety of circuit types. In a typical setup, the connection consists of a shorter cable plugged into the front side of the patch panel and a longer cable plugged into the back.

A history of patch panels
The technology was first used in telephone exchanges where a room of operators were required to man the telephone switchboard. Patch panels are still used in today's telephone system but they no longer require manual input.

What can patch panels be used for?
Patch bays are used at installations where it is necessary to connect and reconnect various hardware devices. They are used for data transfers, telephone transfers and in audio and video applications.

Where are patch panels used?
They are used at technical control facilities, patch and test facilities, telephone exchanges, broadcast studios, recording studios, Audio and video production studios, Communications networks and Computer networks. Local Area Networks (LANs) incorporate patch panels by using them to connect the computers of a network to one another and to the internet.

Pros
* Cheaper than alternative switching equipment.
* Transmit signals from one cable to another without any loss of signal or data
* Enable user to change and interchange the individual cables on the front.
* Most patch panels have redundant power supplies attached to ensure that power failures do not result in data transfer failures.
* Can be routed to different destinations, including processing equipment, testing stations, etc. If a piece of equipment fails, patches can be re-routed to by-pass it. This gives the operation a great deal of flexibility to adapt to new situations or problems.
* Wireless patch panels are also available that provide the cross connections by flipping a switch rather than plugging in wires.

Cons
* Can be more expensive.
* Can increase the amount of cable required. This can make increase hum and noise rejections.

Alternatives:
Dedicated switching equipment can be an alternative to patch bays in some applications. Switchers can make signal routing as easy as pushing a button, and can provide other benefits over patch bays, including routing a signal to any number of destinations simultaneously. However, switching equipment that can emulate the capabilities of a patch panel is much more expensive.

How much do patch panels cost:
Patch panels come in a wide variety of sizes and specifications A 24 Way Value Cat5e UTP Patch Panel 1u may cost 25.85 whilst a 48 Way Krone Cat5e High Density Shielded PCB Patch Panel retails at around 445.91.
About the Author
Shaun Parker has been at the forefront of the Networking Industry, specifically Patch Panels for several years. For more information visit Comms Express.
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