An unexpected development from the Anixter Levels '97 Program is that high-performance cable constructions are in high demand. As Anixter unfolded the Levels Program, end-users and savvy distributors invested in Level 5, Level 6, and Level 7 cables. The end-users which we interviewed at the ACUTA (Association of College and University Telecommunications Administrators, Lexington, KY) Annual Conference emphasized their demand for a cabling infrastructure that will maximize itself as a barrier to obsolescence. There was a great deal of discussion about the Level 7 Gigabit Ethernet cabling. Cable manufacturers have begun making significant investments in the development of these ultra-high performance copper cables. It seems only yesterday that we were talking about 350 MHz as a testing limit. Well, we were wrong! The cable companies continue to aggressively invest and develop better technology for copper cables at higher speeds than the once acceptable Category 5 100 MHz benchmark. Recently, we were privy to the testing and comparison of a new ultra-high performance cable from Prestolite Wire Corporation. The new cable is still unnamed but may be called "GigaLAN" or "SuperLAN" or possibly, some other combination of descriptors that would relate this new product's capabilities. During the test, the new Prestolite cable was matched against the three top cables on the market from other suppliers. Prestolite out-performed the market leaders by a wide margin. Competition is fierce. The other cable companies will examine the Prestolite design and modify their best to make them better . . . and so on, and so on.
The cable manufacturers reported a shift in product demand to Enhanced performance Category 5 plenum cables. One manufacturer said that their orders for this type of cable was more than 50% higher in June 1997 than June 1996. A quick phone survey to a half a dozen major cable manufacturers revealed the same results. Major distributors also reported a 4-8 week lead time on orders for Cat 5 plenum cable. There was a lot of discussion about extended delivery dates and the "drivers" for this scenario. We tracked the principal drivers behind the extended dates to several causes.
First, the increased demand was generated by end-user demand for the highest performance cable they could buy. This point might be captured by the comment, "We prefer to cable once while we realize we may change terminal hardware several times." OR "Recabling every time we turn around doesn't make any sense." OR, even better, "The contractor said you can pay me now, or pay me later and it's always more expensive later."
Second, manufacturers are feeling the pressure from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for tighter control to ensure cable constructions meet the fire safety requirements for plenum applications. The retest program earlier this year revealed a problem with certain types of Category 5 plenum cables. Nobody wants a repeat of that problem.
Third, these ultra-high performance cables require tighter tolerances and more manufacturing process control. This is taking more time in the plant. We expect these extended production times to reduce as the plant personnel become more efficient and familiar with the new tolerances and quality requirements. Cabling has come a long way, baby!
Again the manufacturers of copper cable are rising to the occasion. The combination of new tighter tolerance cable designs, and high performance 4x0 FEP insulation are giving users the technology they want - reliable performance and a barrier to obsolescence. These new cable designs are leading the development of a higher performance total systems approach. When you put it all together, many see these developments as the threshold of the "next generation" copper cabling system, and the next new installed base. Are you listening TIA?
As of this writing, none of the extended delivery dates are due to shortages of materials. With increasing demand for high performance plenum cable such as Level 6 and Level 7, we expect the demand for FEP to tighten but not reach the crisis proportions of a year and a half ago. We don't see a market scenario where material supply jitters leads to hoarding and panic buying like it did during the supply crunch of '96.
Economics is simply defined as the law of supply and demand. In the information age, we need to add qualifiers for technology and obsolescence. Clearly, demand has increased for high performance cables and the value for these cables has appreciated with their technological capabilities. All of these factors spell price increase. Don't be surprised by an increase in the price of the cable now. We can always update the connector technology but we can't get to the cable after it's installed.
The Anixter Levels '97 Program has opened our eyes to the values of these new constructions for Levels 5, 6, and 7. As end user awareness increases so will the demand. The volume of demand at this time is testing the limits of production in raw materials for the cable constructions. We are confident that we will see the FEP supply challenged to the maximum within the next six months. A major addition to the supply of FEP may be introduced during the first quarter of 1998. At this writing, the FEP supply has not caused any reported manufacturing delays.
What about Fiber Optics? Will Fiber Optics replace the copper cable? How soon will that happen? How does copper and fiber compare cost-wise? These questions are more exciting when you realize that there are some huge vested parties who wish you would drop the copper and jump on the fiber optic bandwagon - 100%. The reality is: we just don't know the answer to most of these questions.
We do know that the fiber optic industry, including the connectors, is selling virtually all of its production output now. A huge increase in demand for F.O. cable would result in a huge price increase! The F.O. Cable industry is growing at a healthy pace and will continue to serve the long-line and backbone marketplace. Additionally, fiber optics will find new opportunities in specialized applications directly to the terminal hardware. Many of these new applications envision a major broadband requirement to serve multi-media applications. There is a fit between the fiber optics and the high performance cable. It is more of a complimentary relationship than an adversarial market.
Please send us your thoughts on this important issue for future discussions in this column or in feature articles.
ACP (Association of Cabling Professionals) Training and Certification Programs are being finalized. While the comprehensive training manuals are being published, the ACP staff has begun a search for instructors and examiners for this important program. The regional requirements stipulate an organization with regional representation and availability for the courses, hand-on training, and testing for certification. If you are interested in participating in the program as an instructor or certification examiner, please send us your information for review and contact.
Training is a critical component of our industry's technical underside and the end-user values. Just when you thought you had it all under control with Cat 5, along comes the Anixter Levels '97 Program!
Clearly, there is a substantial business opportunity in the training process. There is an even greater financial opportunity for the well-trained and well-informed individual. Whether it's ACP training, or the training offered by other organizations, it is a must for survival and success in this rapidly changing technological marketplace.
Remember "The Cool Grand"? Apparently, only a couple of individuals do. The Cool Grand is a contest which will recognize the best cabling specification submitted with a prize of $1,000 from the Association of Cabling Professionals. The focus on the spec is not how many pages of boilerplate you can send in, but instead the quality of the job description in the specification. (We will not be able to mail you back your submitted spec.) The deadline is February 28, 1998.
Mail your entry to: Association of Cabling Professionals, 4160 Southside Blvd., Suite #3, Jacksonville, FL 32216. If you have any questions, call Frank Bisbee or Grace Shimp at (904) 645-6018.
ACUTA (Association of College & University Telecommunications Administrators) held their Annual Conference and Exposition at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, Georgia (July 13-17, 1997). The conference and exposition were a textbook case of organization and membership participation. The members hung in for the presentations and touring the exhibition hall to the last bloody minute. These people are serious about communications. Dollar for dollar, this organization gives one of the best values that we have seen in today's rapidly changing marketplace. The members are spending vast sums on communication systems and recabling the campus for the next millennium. We are confident that each member who attended left with alot of valuable information and contacts for their respective organizations. The vendors were low-key but their educational value was first-class. This was a "win-win" situation for vendors and members. Cabling is a hot topic for this organization and was well-received and well-attended in spite of being scheduled in the afternoon of the last day. The presentation on cabling was punctuated with some great success stories by the members. Ms. Ruth Michalecki, Director - Telecommunications Center of the University of Nebraska (Lincoln, NE) related a successful recabling project in which she orchestrated an alliance between AT&T and the local telephone company. Everyone was happy when the project was done on time and under budget. Hats off to Ruth Michalecki for her creative management style.
We are fortunate to have many high quality cable manufacturers to choose from when buying or specifying cable. We work hard to stay abreast of new people, product, and technology developments at these companies and to get the word out in our H.O.T.S. (Heard On The Street) column. Remee Products Corporation keeps coming up on the radar screen. Remee may not be one of the largest manufacturers in the cable industry. From our discussions with Mike Mayfield, V.P., Remee can compete in the Big League. REMEE has landed some large users from fiber optic applications at the Atlanta Olympics to one of the big banks in the Big Apple. Keep an eye on this high growth company, and look for more innovations for our industry.
Wes Summers, Past President BICSI and long time BellSouth BICS Manager, has made a big career move to join the ranks of Mohawk/CDT. Wes said that this new opportunity is the most exciting challenge he has ever undertaken. Mohawk/CDT continues to grow with a solid team of professionals.
The next few months will see the announcement of a new generation in connectors for high performance cabling. Most of the connector manufacturers have developed products to deliver high performance technology in the Level 6 and Level 7 range. We still have many questions about these new connectors. As soon as we know, we'll let you know. If the footprint changes from RJ-45 to something new, there may be big changes in:
- Patch Panels
- Patch Cords
- Testing Devices
- Testing Connectors
- Face Plates
Don't panic! RJ-45 will probably remain the footprint.
Residential wiring seems to be on many lips. This is not a new opportunity. Residential cabling is an old opportunity revisited with new products and a recognition of tele-commuting by fax, modem, cable modem, telephone, and sometimes even smoke signals. The revenue in residence cabling is focused on labor. We've seen some pre-fab connector boxes that look pretty slick, but the dollars continue to focus on the installation labor. High performance copper cabling and fiber optic cabling require a great deal more training than a "do-it-at-home" video or a data communications made-easy brochure. When you roll the service truck from the cabling contractor, the price tag is not cheap and the training is the same that is required to handle today's business customers. What's the point? Residence cabling is not The Lost Dutchman's Mine of cabling revenue. There's alot more money than there used to be, but don't kid yourself. This is not El Dorado, especially when the cable TV companies are picking off the wiring revenue for the new coaxial lines to serve the cable modems. That just leaves the POTS wire.
Please check our links page, The Router to ensure we have your site listed. Remember you can download membership applications for ACP or the renewal form for Cabling Business Magazine. You were supposed to renew annually to ensure your uninterrupted delivery of CBM.
There will also be a generic Level 6 spec for 4 pair UTP Plenum for your downloading convenience.