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HOTS 07/1997

Issue: July 1997

By: Frank Bisbee


Featured Story


The 1997 ICA Annual SuperConference with SUPERCOMM '97 (June 1-5) in New Orleans, LA was an unqualified success. This Premiere Management Technology Conference - by the end user for the end user - provided high-level training and strategic solutions to their membership and other attendees. The ICA (The New International Communications Association) is an organization with a roster that reads like the FORTUNE 500. ICA has A Proud Heritage and A Bright Future. Established in 1948, ICA moves towards their 50th anniversary with an aggressive membership drive headed by C.W. "Woody" Randall, ICA Chairman of the Board. If you're looking for additional information about ICA, Check out their website at http://www.icanet.com.



At SUPERCOMM '97, ICA offered 3 mini-conferences, 13 tutorials, and 31 breakout sessions - all specifically designed for the information and data network professionals who must keep up with the rapidly changing technology and regulatory issues in order to keep their companies competitive in the market place. The tutorials which received the heaviest attendance and the most favorable ratings by the attendees were the sessions dealing with networking and cabling. The arcane world of cabling and fiber optics is still a mystery to many end user organizations. The rapid advances in technology for the network cabling has left many questions in the minds of the end users, planners, and consultants. The cabling is not connected to the information super highway. It is the information super highway.



ICA focuses on cabling and all other critical areas of concern to the end user. If you're not a member, you probably should be.



BICSI (Building Industry Consulting Services International) Summer Conference '97 -Providence, RI (June 9-12) was a clear success for Anixter, Inc. and Prestolite Wire Corporation. This conference is usually lightly attended, but not this year. There were more than 1200 attendees, many of which saw the presentations by Anixter, Inc. on the Anixter Levels '97 Program and the Prestolite Wire Corporation's RDNP (Registered Data Networking Professionals) Program. The real value in the Anixter Program is a guidepost to the information super highway cabling standards . . . wiring the millennium. The real value in the Prestolite Wire Corporation's RDNP Program is certified installer training and quality control with REAL warranties.



NASTD (National Association State Telecommunications Directors) held regional meetings for the West and South Regions. Ted Lightle, President of the NASTD South Region, hosted their conference in Charleston, SC in mid-June. This regional meeting received excellent attendance and one of the hot subjects was the new approach to wiring standards and the questions about plenum cable raised by UL (Underwriters Laboratories).



BOMA (Building Owners And Managers Association) 90th Anniversary Convention '97 in Minneapolis, MN (June 22-25) was held in conjunction with The Office Building Show. You guessed it, Smart Buildings was back on the discussion agenda. With the resale and readily available commission for both local and long-distance telecommunications service, the concept of a smart building with universal wiring is not only feasible but profitable. Getting from the world of today's spec building with no wiring plan to an intelligent building requires a set of skills not resident in most building owners and managers organizations. They will need help, but it will be worth it. You can bet that NAIOP ( National Association of Industrial and Office Properties) members are also looking at these same "possibilities".



Hope you can get to the ACUTA (Association of College and University Telecommunications Administrators) Annual Conference at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, GA (July 13-17). Contact Kevin Adkins, ACUTA, (606-278-3338) or email kadkins@acuta.org for more details.

Attention purveyors: ACUTA members will probably spend more than $50 million on cabling projects over the next 2-3 years.



What Cabling Distributor is movin' and shakin'? WESCO (Pittsburgh, PA) with an aggressive installer training program for BICSI and WESCO contractors. Mike Ludwig, Director & General Manager of WESCO Datacomm, reports, "Friendly pricing, a really active market, and top-notch service, stocking, and shipping spell success for WESCO and its customers."


ALERT

Potential Fire Performance Safety Problems with
Certain Types of Plenum Rated Category 5 Data Communications Cable

This alert is being issued because of questions concerning the long term fire safety performance of "hybrid" Category 5 plenum cables which use new insulation compounds as replacement for 100% FEP Constructions.

BACKGROUND

Data communications cable installed outside of metal conduit in concealed air handling spaces such as air return plenums must meet low flame and low smoke requirements as specified by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency). Meeting these requirements means the cable can be listed as "CMP" (Communications-Plenum) and is acceptable for installation in building plenums. Until recently, all Category 5 CMP listed cable was 100% insulated with FEP (fluorinated ethylene propylene). You may be more familiar with the DuPont trademark Teflon® FEP.

The rapid growth of LANS and data communications cabling led to a temporary shortage of FEP resulting in the use of substitute insulations consisting of flame retardant polyolefin compounds (e.g. polyethylene and polypropylene). Cable designs using these substitute insulations are generally referred to as "hybrid constructions", in which only two or three of the four pairs are insulated with FEP. These are known as "2x2" or "3x1" designs, respectively.

THE PROBLEM

If cable being installed is "CMP listed", what's the problem? There are three potential problems.

1.

The cable may NOT, in fact, be code compliant.

Certain hybrid cable constructions, such as "2x2", marginally pass fire safety performance tests but variability in insulation compounds and the cable manufacturing process could mean the CMP rating is not consistently accurate. UL (Underwriters Laboratories), the leading test and listing agency for the cabling industry, is so concerned about this potential compliance problem that a special meeting has been called for April 15 to review data and discuss the issue.

2.

The plenum rated (CMP) cable you install today may not be plenum compliant tomorrow.

The long-term stability, or retention of fire protection properties of hybrid cables, is in question. Unlike FEP, the new substitute insulations are mixtures or compounds of various materials. Since these do not have a proven record of long term performance, aging and stability tests at elevated temperatures found in plenums are needed to ensure that fire protection properties do not change with time.

3.

More fuel load is building up in plenums due to hybrid cables.

Although new olefin-based compounds may meet the flame and smoke requirements for installation in plenum areas, these materials have very high fuel load and are defined in NFPA 90A as "Combustibles". Expect fire safety engineers and codes authorities to rigorously examine what may be an inconsistency in the codes, possibly leading to code revisions.


WHAT CAN YOU DO? - THE ACP RECOMMENDATION

1.

Specify Category 5 plenum cable insulated 100% with FEP. This cable construction is endorsed by the ACP.

2.

Use the ACP cable specification that requires 100% FEP insulation. A complete cable specification, including manufacturers and part numbers for Enhanced Category 5 plenum cable will be available on the ACP web site, www.wireville.com, beginning April 1. The specification exceeds the minimum requirements of current TIA (Telecommunication Industries Association) and ICEA (Insulated Cable Engineers Association) standards.

3.

Stay informed.

Routinely check the web site. ACP will load key educational and information materials on our web site from a variety of sources.



ACP ALERT - UPDATE

UPDATE ON APRIL 15 MEETING AT UL

The ACP Alert dated 3/27/97 warned of potential fire protection problems with certain types of Category 5 (CAT 5) plenum cables. These cables use new insulation compounds as a substitute for FEP*. They are typically identified as "2x2" or "3X1" composite constructions since only two or three of the four pairs use FEP.

The Alert also reported that UL (Underwriters Laboratories), the leading test and listing agency for the cabling industry, was so concerned about this potential compliance problem that a special meeting was called on April 15th. Information presented at this meeting by UL, and others, confirmed there is a problem and that it is more severe than expected. This update is intended to provide you with a summary of the outcome of the April 15th meeting at UL; to provide you with market information to guide your procurement of CAT 5 plenum cable; and to assist you in avoiding potential fire protection and legal problems.

SUMMARY OF UL MEETING ON APRIL 15, 1997

UL reported on follow up tests to check whether recent production samples of CAT 5 CMP listed cable met the requirements of the UL 910 test. (Initial production of these cables met the flame spread and smoke limits of UL 910 and qualified for CMP listing at the time.) Ten (10) of the Twenty-one (21) samples from 19 manufacturers failed the test, confirming the wide variability in fire protection of composite cable designs.

UL also proposed formation of two committees to study the problems affecting the fire safety performance of plenum cables. These committees will investigate such things as:

  • A "listing program" for insulation compounds

  • Improvement of the UL follow up testing program

  • Marking cables (i.e. "4x0", "3x1", "2x2" etc.)

  • Effects of aging on fire safety performance

  • It does not appear that UL plans to issue a cable "recall" or public warning at this time.

ACP strongly advises cabling contractors and end users to take action to avoid potential fire protection problems and possible legal and insurance problems.

MARKET SITUATION

Despite the absence of a public disclosure of the problem by UL, cable manufacturers and distributors are taking action to resolve it. Some cable manufacturers have responded by upgrading production to only "4x0" constructions that are 100% FEP insulated. Others are still producing "3x1" and "2x2" designs because of intense price competition in the low end of the market. Based on the variability in fire protection as reported at the April 15th meeting at UL, you should question the suitability of these cable designs for plenum installation. Producers of composite cables will also supply "4x0" cable upon request.

According to our sources, Anixter and Accu-Tech have been proactive and will soon be stocking an all FEP cable (insulation and jacket) for those looking for the highest level of fire protection. We may see more demand, and stocking by distributors, of "4x0" cable as "2x2" and "3x1" cable inventories are cleared out through aggressive pricing. There are signs that some "dumping" may already be occurring.

The allure of low price could spell trouble. The modest premium for "4x0" constructions is a small but valuable investment in protection. We recommend you shop for price but require quotes on "4x0" design. The ACP endorsed model specification for Enhanced Performance CAT 5 plenum cable with limited combustible wire insulation is based on a "4x0" design. It is recommended for CAT 5 plenum cable procurement and is available through the ACP web site www.wireville.com.

Check the site regularly for further updates on fire protection and information on high performance cabling systems.

* FEP is commonly known by the Dupont Trademark Teflon®



Remee Products Corporation (Florida, NY) has introduced a Premium Category 5 cable for high performance networking applications. These cables are designed for the user that demands the latest in Category 5 network cabling systems. These products will enable the user to be ready for tomorrow's data transfer technology today, there are higher bit rate applications, increased band widths and the emergence of multi service protocols for data, voice and video. In addition to meeting the current EIA/TIA 568-A standards these cables are anticipating the future by providing specifications and characterization out to 350Mhz. In the absence of industry standards Remee guarantees enhanced ACR, NEXT and Delay Skew at 100 and 155Mhz. These 4 pair cable constructions are available in plenum and non-plenum constructions. The plenum version of the RemPro-350 product is insulated with 100% Teflon® FEP fluoropolymer resin and the product is part of the Dupont Gold Seal program. The performance envelope has been verified by an independent test laboratory. Remee proudly announces its certification as an ISO 9000 Company. This certification is a milestone in the company's history and heads the list of its many notable achievements. Please contact the factory for additional information - 800-431-3864.



Jay Warmke, Executive Director, BICSI (Building Industry Consulting Services International), reports that the Board of Directors has renewed his employment contract for another three-and-a-half years. Whatever they're paying him, it isn't enough! Moving from a successful job as a comic book distributor, to Executive Director of BICSI, Jay has done a remarkable job.



Cabling The Workplace '97 (May 12- 15) hit a new high on attendance. We understand there were about 2000 attendees. From the interviews and follow-up reports, the technical sessions were very well attended and delivered a high value. The Technical Conference was a success.

Atlantic City scored much lower. This was their first convention in the new Center . . . & our last. This town just does not understand business conventions. The town had multiple Trump Hotels and Bally's Hotels as well as two convention halls. The average attendee stood a better than 50% chance that the cab would take them to the wrong place. And last but not least, there was no where to sit down and relax or discuss business. Casino Hotels don't put furniture in the lobby to sit on. They want you in the casinos. The convention hall was equally bare of adequate and comfortable seating. "We are working hard on CTW '98 to improve the value to the attendees and the members of the Association of Cabling Professionals," said Stephen Paulov, Chairman of ACP.



You must fill out subscription renewal forms at least once every 6 months for Cabling Business Magazine. You can find the renewal forms in Cabling Business Magazine or you can obtain a subscription form directly from this website.


IN CLOSING . . .

The Communications Industry is changing rapidly. Some observers compare watching this industry is like spinning the adjustments on a kaleidoscope. You may find it difficult to pickup on all the changes. Many of the successful companies are re-inventing their offerings and many successful individuals are re-inventing themselves with new skill sets. Training is valuable but its shelf-life is much shorter than ever before. The half-life on a six year college program for engineering is four years. Scary, isn't it? Today, training is an on-going challenge to separate you from the critters in Jurassic Park. You can become obsolete in three to four years and you can become extinct in five years or sooner. If you're on top of your job skills today, worry about getting more training. If you are behind on current required skill sets, panic because you are standing in the extinct line.

This is not a crude plug for the training for the Cabling Business Institute, ACP, or even BICSI. This closing is a loud warning that training, or re-training is part of the survival skills in tomorrow's business picture.

 

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