Written by Don Schultz, Networking Consultant & trueCABLE Customer
An Ethernet data cable has an outer sheath protecting the interior wires called a jacket. This jacket can come in many variations designed for different applications. All jacket types are borne from the National Electric Code (NEC) which was published by the National Fire Protection Agency, and happens to be 600 pages long and potentially confusing.
From the NEC, here are some of the more common acronyms. Many of these you will recognize, although a few you will probably not. I have underlined the types that apply to this article.
- CMP:Communications, Plenum - can be installed in any space
- CATVP:Cable TV Plenum
- CL3P:Class 3 Plenum - for in-wall installation in plenum, riser and general spaces
- CL2P:Class 2 Plenum - for in-wall installation in plenum, riser and general spaces
- CMR:Communications, Riser
- CATVR:Cable TV, Riser
- CL3R:Class 3, Riser - for in-wall installation in riser and non-riser spaces
- CL2R:Class 2, Riser - for in-wall installation in riser and non-riser spaces
- CM or CMG:Communications
- CATV:Cable TV
- CL3:Class 3 - for in-wall installation in non-riser, non-plenum spaces
- CL2:Class 2 - for in-wall installation in non-riser, non-plenum spaces
- CMX:Communications, Outdoor
- CATVX:Cable TV, Residential
- CL3X:Class 3, Residential - for in-wall installation in non-riser, non-plenum spaces
- CL2X:Class 2, Residential - for in-wall installation in non-riser, non-plenum spaces
The outer jacket material has no bearing on whether the cable is Cat5e or Cat6 or anything INSIDE the cable. In fact, the outer jacket material has no bearing on whether we are talking about Ethernet data cable or cable TV cable.
Before we delve into what Ethernet data cable you are likely to encounter for sale and where to use it, here are some terms you need to know.
- HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. This term refers to an industry standard for how air is moved inside a building.
- Plenum means the spaces usually occupied by the HVAC system, found above and below floors. This empty air space is commonly used for moving air around with or without a dedicated duct.
- Riser means vertical, typically inside walls and between floors.
- PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) is the material used in the majority of cable jackets. PVC is simply your typical vinyl.
A network data cable installer is likely to use CM, CMP, CMR, or CMX type jackets.
Plenum Rated (CMP)
Inside a commercial building (this can mean office, school, hotel, motel, and more) the construction contractor installed a HVAC system inside the Plenum. The Plenum area is a likely spot for installing cabling. As convenient as this is, it brings special considerations related to fire and toxic smoke.
- The Plenum area is a great way to channel a fire and resultant smoke from one spot to the next in a building, and quickly.
- PVC cable, without a Plenum rating, will aid in spreading a fire and the resultant highly toxic smoke will end up invading the common living/working spaces which will cause anything from immediate fatality to long term health issues.
Given the critical nature of fire protection, a Plenum cable performance rating was established. Commonly, Plenum cable is constructed from FEP (fluorinated ethylene propylene). FEP is essentially a plasticized Teflon. FEP emits little smoke when burning and is low toxicity.
Plenum cable is more expensive than non-Plenum cable. Ultimately, the decision won’t be the installers to make. Local fire codes, insurance requirements, or even customer requirements will dictate if Plenum must be used. Regardless, NEVER use plain PVC cable in a Plenum space. Plenum rated cable can be installed in all spaces but the per-foot cost involved typically prohibits this.
Riser Rated (CMR)
Riser rated cable is PVC. Riser rated cable is suitable for use inside walls and in runs vertically between floors. Typically, the fire resistance is due to a Teflon coating on the cable or strands of fibers baked into the jacket that limit the ability of the cable to carry a flame. If the cable should actually burn, the resultant smoke and fumes are toxic. Riser rated cable is the most common jacket type found on the market and is much lower in cost. Riser rated cable may be used in any part of your structure EXCEPT the Plenum.
General Use (CM/CMG)
CM rated cable is again PVC, but this time without any added fire protection. This cable will burn just like any untreated plastic and will emit toxic smoke and fumes. CM rated cable is suitable for making connections inside a single room only, such as ready-made patch cables from the wall to a computer. trueCABLE does not sell CM rated bulk cable. Even though CM is the cheapest on the market, this type of cable poses the most serious risks to health and safety if run in bulk through a structure.
CMX rated cable is meant for outdoor scenarios such as open-air or even direct burial. CMX rated cable does not use PVC for the outer jacket, but instead typically uses LLDPE (Linear Low Density Polyethylene). LLDPE is UV Resistant and weather proof in nature. Additional cable construction (inside) may make this cable type suitable for direct burial as well. CMX cable can be expensive due to how the cable is constructed, but not as expensive as Plenum rated cable. CMX cable is not flame retardant and should not be used extensively inside a building or home.
Hopefully this article clarifies the different Ethernet data cable jacket types you are likely to see for sale and what is the right jacket for the job at hand. Generally, unless you are heading up into the plenum space or installing cabling outdoors, Riser Rated cable will provide a degree of safety and good value.