Keystone jacks are small inserts made from plastic or metal designed for simple customization projects. They are designed to go along with keystone compatible products such as wall plates, surface mount boxes, and patch panels. A keystone ready product is made with square holes where the keystones are inserted. Each keystone simply snaps into place and can be taken out with a simple release tab if they ever need to be removed.
A keystone wall plate with three ports
The main advantage and purpose of keystones is customization. Take wall plates as an example. There are plenty of pre-made wall plates out there that have one RJ45 Ethernet jack and one RJ12 phone jack. But what if a room needs both of those for a computer and phone plus a second RJ12 jack for a fax machine? One extra jack seems like a small thing but finding a pre-made wall plate exactly like that can be a challenge. But by using a keystone wall plate, it is as simple as popping that extra jack into place. Using keystones can turn a drawn-out product hunt into a quick
Patch panels are simple pieces of equipment designed to house a large number of jacks. Typically, they are mounted onto rack or cabinets. The panels themselves are easy to install, but there are a few details to know before getting started.
Horizontally, patch panels are 19 inches (the industry standard size). Vertically, patch panels are measured in rack units (RU). Patch panels are rectangular and secured with four screws, one on each corner. A single RU is the amount of space one row of jacks will take up on a unit (1 RU = 1.75 inches). Typically, a maximum of 24 ports can be squeezed onto a single RU.
There are two main types of patch panels, pre-made and keystone.
*If you need help installing a patch panel onto a rack or cabinet, please see the article here.
Pre-Made Patch Panels
Pre-made patch panels are used for ethernet and telephone connections. This type of patch panel is built with the jacks already installed. Ethernet patch panels feature punchdown on the back for wiring directly into the connectors. They even feature charts with wiring schemes on the back to help during installation. Ethernet panels are available for the various types of ethernet (Cat5e, Cat6, etc.).
Telephone patch panels are also called Telco patch panels. From the front, they look very similar to ethernet patch panels. On the back, a port is available to plug in a Telco cable. This allows for a simple, easy install in data closets and similar environments. There are different types of jacks available on these panels with different positions (P) and conductors (C). For example, regular phone lines may need 6P4C while a VOIP phone could need 8P2C. There are more options besides those two, so see what your phones will need to make an appropriate selection.
Keystone jacks are small inserts designed to snap into place on keystone wall plates, patch panels, and surface mount boxes. Equipment built for keystones will have small holes left in them instead of having jacks pre-built in. Keystone jacks snap into place in these holes, allowing users to customize what jacks are included however they see fit. Keystones are also easy to remove if anything ever needs to be repaired or replaced.
A standard keystone wall plate, designed to accept four keystone jacks
Punchdown vs. Coupler
There are multiple types of keystone jacks available, primarily consisting of various types of voice, data, audio, and video connections. Additionally, keystones are available in both punchdown and coupler formats. Voice and data keystones can be either one of these while audio and video keystones are typically only available as couplers.
The difference between the two types lies with how cables are connected to the back of the keystone jack. Punchdowns allow bare wires to be connected to the jack. Directly wiring into a jack is most commonly used for permanent installations. Couplers