Future-Proof Television Service to 304 TVs Over Cat 6 in Residence Hall

Lynx Broadband recently completed a turnkey installation in Washington State for a brand new, state of the art, college dormitory building. Service to 304 TVs over Cat 6 was distributed across five floors in the new facility, providing service to common areas, dorm rooms and game rooms. The facility utilized the most up to date technologies to provide students with an aesthetically pleasing environment and convenient access to new communication technologies.

Television Service to 304 TVs Over Cat 6 in Residence Hall

At first glance, the brand new, 112,000-square-foot student residence hall on the campus of Eastern Washington University (EWU) in Cheney, WA, is reminiscent of a gabled-roof, redbrick dorm at an Ivy League school. However, beneath the traditional-looking exterior of EWU’s newest building are advanced technologies and amenities that enhance communications and learning for today’s students. The building is also future-proofed to be compatible with technologies yet to come, and has earned a LEED Silver rating.

The school’s leadership also wanted the new building to be a monument to the cultural heritage of that region and chose to name the new building snyamncut (pronounced sin-yam-en-suit). The name comes from the Salish language of the Spokane Indian tribe and means a place of gathering for rest, relaxation and decision making. Salish words are not capitalized, so the name of the new hall will always be in lowercase letters.

Josh Ashcroft, EWU’s chief housing officer, says, “We view snyamncut as really the new standard to move forward, as we continue to upgrade our other buildings. We’re very happy with the new facility and know it will meet the needs of today and tomorrow, and hope that we can get the rest of our facilities up to that standard over time.”

The nervous system of the new, five-story co-ed residence hall, which opened earlier this year, is 241,000 linear feet — or 45 miles — of advanced Category 6 cable that delivers TV signals, telephone and Internet for 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX (Fast Ethernet), 1000BASE-T/1000BASE-TX (Gigabit Ethernet) and 10GBASE-T (10-Gigabit Ethernet). Equally important, the cable transfers data at very high speeds due to its ability to minimize “pair-topair crosstalk,” and it reduces system noise.

Pillow Talk

The second through fifth floors of snyamncut each have 43 rooms that altogether house more than 400 students, according to Bill Turlington, EWU’s Information Technology specialist. “We refer to the residents as pillows,” he says. “Most rooms have two pillows, but some have three pillows. Every pillow gets a gigabit network data connection and each room has one TV connection. The students provide their own computers and TV.”

The ground floor has a large conference room with a fireplace, and a drop-down screen and projector that is connected to the building’s TV network. Student groups use the room for meetings and other activities. Housing and Residence Hall Association offices and several public spaces are also located on this floor. 

Residence Hall HDTV Distribution

Long before any students laid their heads down on pillows at snyamncut, Turlington and his supervisor, Karl Riel, Infrastructure and Communications manager, talked about installing an alternative to a conventional cable TV network. Turlington says, “We were interested in a system that will allow us to future-proof the building for years to come and be ready for IPTV, which is still in its infancy, or any other alternative.”

The basic design of the building was drawn early in 2012, and in May of that year ground was broken. In March of the following year, Riel happened to see the Lynx Broadband TV network demonstrated at the ACUTA Show (Association of College and University Telecommunications Administrators).

Soon after that show, Ray Fugitt, Lynx’ regional sales manager, visited with Riel and Turlington, and provided another demonstration of the TV system. In July 2013, Fugitt completed the design of the cabling layout for the TV network in snyamncut, which was accepted by the school and approved by the state. Installation began the following September.

Hitting a Home Run

The installed system involves RF baluns in hubs that receive “unbalanced” TV signals from any source (cable, satellite or video), and then convert them to “balanced” signals that travel on Cat 6 cable to the point of use. There a single port converter turns the signal back to an “unbalanced” signal that enters the TV through a coaxial cable.

A significant advantage of a Cat 6 TV network, such as the one at snyamncut, is improved signal quality and reliability, because there are no taps, splitters or other connectors between the hubs in a wiring closet and the TV sets on each floor. “The picture quality is excellent, too,” Turlington adds. The system uses a “homerun” network that hooks up one Cat 6 cable directly to one TV, which greatly simplifies installation and troubleshooting.

Installation of 17 16-port hubs, one 8-port hub and more than 300 single-port converters was performed in only six days by certified installers Sean Haines and Alex Yamnik. That’s enough ports to connect TVs in all of the resident rooms in the building, plus TVs in student lounges, game rooms and other public areas throughout snyamncut, and still have ports available for additional use, if needed.

Haines and Yamnik connected coax cables from the headend closet on the main floor of the building to hubs on each of the above floors. “Those two guys would come in early in the morning and worked till six or seven o’clock in the evening, and they kept at it until they were finished,” Turlington says.

Heating Things Up

“Making the installation a little more challenging was the fact that the elevators were not in service yet, there was no air conditioning, and the temperatures averaged from 80 to 100 degrees,” he continues. The primary TV signals come into the headend by coaxial cable from Davis Cable Company, a local provider of 90 channels, including 14 optional HDTV channels. The school’s own channel is also carried on the system.

“One of the more important things about installing this network system was balancing the signal strength over each Cat 6 cable to a TV,” Haines says. “The idea is to make sure a TV that’s 200 feet away (from a hub) gets the same quality signal and picture as a TV that’s only 30 feet away.”

All of the coax cable from the headend to the wiring closets on each floor, along with all of the Cat 6 cable, was already installed throughout the building before Haines and Yamnik arrived on the scene. That allowed them to focus on the TV hookups and make sure they were installed properly, then connect the Cat 6 cables from the hubs to TVs, modify signal strength as needed, and work with Davis Cable to assure the building was receiving the best possible TV signals.

Besides a TV connection in every dorm room, other TVs hooked up to the network are located in a lounge and three or four study rooms on each of the above-ground floors. “Not only do students have a gigabit connection in their rooms, they can also access an advanced WiFi system for all of their laptops, cell phones and other devices,” Turlington continues. The system has six hot zones per floor; 30 in all.

All told, the cost of the cabling and installation throughout the building; the hubs, connectors and installation; headend closet on the first floor; wiring closets on the other four floors; data processing, WiFi and related equipment; their installation; and 22 flat screen TVs in public spaces cost $800,000, the school says, which is only 3.2 percent of the $25 million cost for the entire building.

Other Features

In addition, students have access to a full-service kitchen on each floor, as well as two video and two non-video game rooms in the building. The latter have billiard tables, Ping-Pong and other games.

“We also installed 60 IP cameras for security in the stairwells and at all the entrances to snyamncut,” Turlington says. There are three stairwells and 15 landings. The exterior of the building is also monitored on camera, and all of these security cameras are connected to a video recording service.

But that’s not all. Each floor is equipped with a laundry room that has advanced washing machines and dryers hooked up to the Internet. The machines alert students when they are available and when their clothes are done. Also, students do not need to worry about slogging through deep snow and ice on walkways surrounding the building, because they are all heated.