What is a Patch Panel and What Is It’s Purpose?

What is a Patch Panel and What Is It's Purpose?

These days, it seems that just about everything is wireless. But to take advantage of the blazingly fast Internet now available in most homes and businesses, a wired network often will allow you to achieve speeds much closer to the promised maximum.

What Is A Patch Panel?

If you want to set up a wired network that includes multiple wall ports in various rooms, a patch panel in a central location can provide a simple, neat and easy-to-manage solution. So what is a patch panel you ask? A patch panel is essentially an array of ports on one panel. Each port connects, via a patch cable, to another port located elsewhere in your building.

How Do Patch Panels Work?

Patch panels bundle multiple network ports together to connect incoming and outgoing lines — including those for local area networks, electronics, electrical systems and communications. When patch panels are part of a LAN, they can connect computers to other computers and to outside lines. Those lines, in turn, allow LANs to connect to wide area networks or to the Internet. To arrange circuits using a patch panel, you simply plug and unplug the appropriate patch cords.

Troubleshooting problems are simplified with patch panels since they provide a single location for all input jacks. They’re frequently used in industries that require extensive sound equipment because they work well for connecting a variety of devices.

Managing the Tangle

The primary advantage of using patch panels, also known as patch bays, is improved organization and easier management of your wired network. For most newer patch panel designs, the main focus is on cable management. By using a front-access patch panel, for instance, you can get to all your cables and terminations easily. Front-access panels work especially well in tight spaces.

For businesses, patch panels are often around found in areas that house telecommunications equipment and they play a central role in network functionality. By centralizing cables in one place, patch panels make it easy for network administrators to move, add or change complex network architectures. In a business environment, patch panels are the smart way to quickly transfer communications lines from office to another.

Copper or Fiber?

Patch panels can be part of networks with either fiber or copper cabling. While fiber is much faster than copper, networking professionals disagree on whether the materials show significant performance differences in patch panels. The primary role of the panels is to direct signal traffic rather than move signal at a required speed. There’s no question, however, that fiber panels cost more.

All patch panels are subject to the same standards that provide signal and speed performance ratings for other network components.

It’s All About the Ports

Ports are a component of patch panels because they provide physical entry and exit points for data. Most patch panels have either 24 or 48 ports. However, panels can include 96 ports, and some specialty versions reach 336 or more. The number of ports on a panel is not subject to physical limit other than the room to place them.

However, panels include modules with eight ports because it’s easier to perform replacements and maintenance on smaller groupings. When a malfunction occurs, smaller groups of ports mean fewer wires to connect to a new module.

Using Patch Panels

If you can wire an Ethernet jack, you can wire a patch panel. You’ll simply need to repeat the sequence multiple times for your various ports. A patch panel with eight ports should suffice for most home networks, but it’s easy to expand when you need more capacity. Panels with eight to 24 ports are readily available, and you can make use of multiple panels together to create a larger one.

If you’re putting together a home or business network, can you get the job done without patch panels? Certainly, since patch panels serve more as a convenience than necessity. But by incorporating a patch panel — or several — you can expect better cable management and easier fixes when a network component inevitably breaks down.

  • Jeremy

    Interesting take. I never considered the use of patch panels to help the network run “smoother”, but helpful in troubleshooting and organization.