Patch panels are groups of ports used to connect lines between communications and electronic devices. Connections are made manually with small patch cords, and are easier to wire than automatic switches. Wireless patch panels are also available. These devices closely resemble conventional patch panels, but are able to make both radio frequency (RF) data connections and standard patch cord connections. Typically, patch panels contain faceplates and/or ports that are shielded from electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI). Some devices mount on walls. Others mount in equipment racks such as standard 19” units. Devices that are certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) comply with that organization’s published standards for safety.

Variations

Patch panels vary in terms of plate specifications, cable specifications and permanent connections. Plate specifications include faceplate height and number of ports. Cable specifications include category 3, 5, 5E, and 6 cables as well as fiber optic cables. Category 3 is a voice grade cable specification with a bandwidth of 16 MHz and a maximum data rate of 4 Mbps. Category 5 and 5E cables have a bandwidth of 100 MHz and a maximum data rate of 1 Gbps. Category 6 is a cable specification with a bandwidth of 250 MHz and a maximum data rate of 10 Gbps. Fiber optic cables are composed of one or more transparent optical fibers enclosed in protective, strength-enhancing covering. Permanent connections for patch panels are often plated with tin or silver and are available in 26/28 and 22/26 American wire gauge (AWG). 

Patch Panel Ports

Patch panel ports accommodate specific types of connectors. Connector types include Bayonet Neil-Concelman (BNC), subscription channel (SC), straight tip (ST), registered jack (RJ), small computer systems interface (SCSI), and universal serial bus (USB). BNC connectors are used in video and radio frequency (RF) applications to 2 GHz. SC connectors are larger than BNC connectors and support frequencies to 11 GHz. Both SC and ST connectors are used in fiber distributed data interface (FDDI) cabling applications. RJ ports accommodate RJ connectors, devices used for both telephone connections and network connections. SCSI is an intelligent I/O parallel peripheral bus with a standard, device-independent protocol that allows many peripheral devices to be connected to the SCSI port. Many SCSI variants are available. USB is a 4-wire, 12-Mbps serial bus for low-to-medium speed peripheral device connections to personal computers (PC) and peripherals. Other port types for patch panels include audio plugs and jacks, flat or ribbon cable connectors, and insulation displacement connectors (IDC). Examples of ribbon connectors include Centronics, D-Subminiature and card edge connectors.