What You Should Know About Backbone Cabling

A hand working inside a switchboard with many cables

All large buildings require a complex communication network in order to function effectively. This requires multiple different communication rooms and cables that connect these rooms together. Here is where backbone cabling, an essential part of any building’s communication system, comes into play. 

So, what is backbone cabling? What is it used for? How exactly does it work? Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions and more.

What Is Backbone Cabling?

In most buildings, there are rooms on different floors that perform vital functions for the building as a whole. These rooms include rooms that you would expect to need heavy connections, like communication rooms. However, they also include rooms you may not expect, like equipment rooms and entrance facilities. The commonality between these rooms is that they have systems that are wired together with other systems that need to communicate with each other.

Backbone cabling is the cabling that binds all of these rooms together into one fully-interconnected system. Without backbone cabling, each would need to be connected all over by a series of independent wires. With backbone cabling, these wires are bundled together, and the system is organized in a way that is more effective and practical. 

Related: What is Structured Cabling? Uses and Standards

Backbone Cabling Structure

Backbone cabling starts in each room and it will connect across a building. In each of these rooms, whether they are communication rooms, equipment rooms, or entrance facilities, all of the cables meet at a single point. These points are then connected in a way that joins all the rooms together.

This requires a few different types of connection points. The larger and more prominent points are the main cross-connects (MCs). These run to intermediate cross-connects (ICs) in other rooms. These can then run to horizontal cross-connects (HCs), which allow backbone cabling to bridge over to horizontal cabling.

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Parts of Backbone Cabling

Backbone cabling is made from a number of different parts. These include the parts that go into the overall backbone cable system and the cable itself.

Backbone Cabling System

The network that makes up a building’s backbone cabling comprises several parts. These parts include:

  • Pathways: These are the open spaces through which the cables can run. Enough space needs to be provided for all of the necessary cables to run through. Cable pathways are a complex topic on their own that requires careful consideration when designing the inner workings of any building.
  • Wires: Obviously, backbone cabling will consist of plenty of cables. These will vary in type depending on the exact type of cabling. However, there will always be some type of wiring in these systems.
  • Connection pieces: In most backbone cabling structures, different pathways come together to form a larger system. For these to hold together, connection pieces are needed.
  • Supports: Finally, supports are necessary to allow the structure to function properly. This can include supports that physically support the structure and supports that provide for other needs, like electrical grounding and fire-stopping.
A focused man using power tools to install cables


The cable itself can be made from many different types of cables. The most commonly used is fiber optic cable, which clearly wins the battle against copper cable in everything outside of price. Fiber optic cable is also particularly effective when it comes to transmitting data quickly, transmitting it over long distances, and shielding the data from interference.

Related: Data Center Cabling Best Practices Guide

Benefits of Backbone Cabling

Backbone cabling connects the systems within a building together. This has plenty of general benefits. However, it has a variety of specific benefits as well.

These specific benefits include:

  • Scalability: When a building has a solid backbone cabling system, it is easy to add more to this system. All that needs to happen is for any new infrastructure piece to connect to the backbone cable. Without backbone cable, new infrastructure would have to potentially connect in at any number of different places.
  • Flexibility: A building with a well-planned backbone cable system is wonderfully flexible. Infrastructure can be removed or altered just as easily as it can be added.
  • Reliability: Backbone cable systems add backup paths for data transmission. This means that if one part of the line fails or is too congested, other pathways can serve as a backup. This makes the system more reliable overall.
  • Reduced complexity: A backbone cable system is simple and straightforward. Working with a backbone cable dramatically reduces the total number of cables that would have to be dealt with otherwise. This makes wire management much easier.
  • Compatibility: Backbone cabling requires all the systems it connects to work with it. This has the byproduct of ensuring that all of these systems work with each other. So, buildings connected by backbone cabling have more compatible systems and systems that are easier to use.

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Is Backbone Cabling the Same As Horizontal Cabling?

Backbone cabling often gets talked about alongside horizontal cabling. This is because both extend out of important rooms, like communications rooms.

However, horizontal cabling extends from one of these rooms throughout the same floor. It may connect a communication room to all of the computers or office spaces on that floor of the building. Meanwhile, backbone cabling connects different communications rooms, usually on different floors, to each other. Backbone cabling does not connect to individual devices on a single floor.

This does, however, mean that these two types of cable structures work together. Horizontal cabling typically connects back to backbone cabling. Think of horizontal cabling like the branches on a tree and backbone cabling like the tree trunk. These branches meet at different sections of the trunk but are all still connected to it in some way.

An easy way to remember all of this is that horizontal cabling extends horizontally through a building. Meanwhile, backbone cabling tends to extend vertically.

Close-up of cables plugged into a device

The Essentials of Backbone Cabling

Backbone cabling is an essential part of a building because it literally provides the backbone for the cable structure. Because of this, it is the system that all other wired structures rely on. Understanding all of this is an important piece of understanding the overall network structure of a building. 

Related: Server Room Temperature: Guide to Important Ranges

Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Josh Mahan

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