The communications cabling market has exceeded the expectations of the boldest forecasters. Today we are experiencing a level of demand that is testing the maximum resources of the cabling industry. The increased demand for high-performance copper cable has generated an additional requirement for FEP (fluorinated ethylene propylene) that is challenging the overall supply resources.
Daikin and DuPont, producers of FEP, have been playing catch up with an overall demand curve that shows double digit growth for this preferred insulation material. With a three-year cycle for major new FEP capacity, it's clear that supply and demand will be tight for a while. We're in one of those periods right now where there is more demand than supply, so expect rising prices and longer lead times for Category 5 plenum cable.
The worst thing that could happen to our industry right now is overreaction. We saw what hoarding and stockpiling did two years ago. It only made a temporary FEP supply crunch even worse by driving up cable prices and pushing delivery times out to rediculous future dates. Rest easy! This is not an El Niño year for the cabling industry. The market will soon correct itself. Let's not create a self-fullfilling prophecy accompanied by self-inflicted headaches. The supply fundamentals are still right for FEP.
Daikin is in a "controlled distribution" mode to build inventory for a scheduled plant shutdown. FEP plants must absolutely follow strict safety and maintenance procedures. DuPont has already invested well over $100 million in round outs and new facilities. Not all have gone smoothly, but a new production line is scheduled to start up in the second half of this year.
In the short term, get ready for the hype machine to go into high gear with the "we're really almost as good as FEP" message. (Try selling that one to your end user investing in a 15-year asset.) But if you must temporarily go with alternate cable designs to complete projects, "ya gotta do what ya gotta do!"
We need to manage our available resources and choose the right products for the right job. For example, there are millions of feet of cable being installed in rental space where the tenant has identified short term applications and limited transmission requirements. In those cases where the building owner offers no rebate to the tenant for improving as-built space, we suggest that the tenant treat the cabling as an expense, not an investment. After all, why should you wire their building for the future at no cost?
For the long term, we may have a temporary supply pinch point but FEP is going to be around and available in plentiful supply for a long time. So, don't worry. Be happy.
Oh yeah, and if you think that tight FEP supply is a ruse to raise prices by the suppliers - it isn't. Which corporate bureaucrats, faced with the prospects of dowmsizing everyday, are going to risk a career in the big house for a pay check?
BICSI Annual Conference and Trade Show was a success, as reported in February's "Heard On The Street". What wasn't reported was that EIA/TIA began a two-day codes and standards meeting at a nearby facility. This meeting of convenience had an improved attendance because participants were already in the area for the conference activities.
The EIA/TIA held their standards committee meetings on communications cabling and related issues. Recently, EIA/TIA has been under some pressure to develop new standards for enhanced performance products that exceed the old Category 5 standards. The market is looking for Category 6 and Category 7. This market pressure has intensified since Anixter announced and released their Levels '97 specifications program. Many industry insiders have applauded Anixter's initiative in raising the bar. The higher performance specifications in the Anixter Levels '97 program translate to a significantly improved value in the end users cabling investment. Anytime the end user gets a better value for their dollar, a potential win-win scenario is available for the buyer and seller.
REXEL DATACOM has just opened a new facility in the Metro Atlantic area. This company is recognized by many loyal customers as CONSOLIDATED DATACOM, a division of REXEL, INC., Coral Gables, Fla., specializing in the wholesale distribution of voice, data and fiber-optic connectivity products. Check out REXEL DATACOM on the web at www.rexelusa.com.
Superior Modular Products (Swannanoa, N.C.;) announces High Performance Interconnectivity Solutions for Cisco Catalyst 5000 systems. The patch panels and accompanying cable assemblies complement the Cisco products and enable network managers to realize the benefits of Cisco products without restrictions on density or degradation in network speed.
This new Fast Ethernet interconnection system is manufactured with precise crosstalk, attenuation, and return loss termination values allowing a 100 Mbps full-duplex system to operate over the entire frequency range for maximum headroom and ACR for future technologies such as Gigabit Ethernet. In addition, this unique design allows precision cable management without signal degradation when the Catalyst 5000 is fully populated with 48-port switching modules.
Ortronics (Pawtucket, Conn.) introduces GigiMo+, the complete channel solution for high-speed local area networks (LANs). Designed to exceed current EIA/TIA 568A standards and the proposed ISO/IEC 11801-B Category 6 channel specification, GigaMo+ is one of the highest performing unshielded twisted pair 100 ohm, four-pair, 24 AWG copper-based channel solution on the market. This channel solution will also support emerging protocol technologies such as 622 Mbps ATM and Gigabit Ethernet (1000BASE-T).
Dick Powell, RCDD, has joined Prestolite Wire Corp. as their new southern regional manager. Powell will be leading the efforts of Prestolite's sales and marketing team in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Currently, he is the president-elect of BICSI (Building Industry Consulting Services International). Powell brings with him extensive industry experience from the Bell Operating Companies, and premium contacts in the contractor and distribution communities.
FLUKE Corp. (Everette, Wash.), announces the FLUKE 6 and 7 field test standards for high-performance cable components and resulting link installations. The FLUKE Level 6 and 7 field test standards are now available as free software upgrades for the DSP Series digital cable testers. Contact Fluke at 800-44-FLUKE or 206-356-5400.
Anicom, Inc. (Rosemont, Ill.), has announced that it has entered into a letter of intent for the purchase of Yankee Electronics, Inc. (Manchester, N.H.), and Optical Fiber Components, Inc. Industry followers have noted Anicom's 14 significant acquisitions since mid-1995. Anicom now has more than 50 locations nationwide. We anticipate the Anicom growth pattern to continue. The industry is healthy and the Anicom network is well situated to expand.
More than 45,000 professionals attended COMNET, a success for the cabling and networking industry. COMNET offered one of the widest selections of vendors, products, and solutions for meeting the end users demand for connections. Only a few years ago, the section of this show which dealt with cabling covered only a portion of one row in the Washington, D.C. Convention Center. The cabling and networking exhibitor booths covered virtually all of the first floor and overflowed significantly onto the second floor. We managed to cover most of the booths for cabling in only two days. If you are a contractor or an end user, this event should be marked on your calendar for 1999.
There were many new cabling products and exciting network systems from various vendors. Some of the vendor alliances in these new systems are interesting and seem to offer unique high-value solutions.
At last! We finally heard it at COMNET. Category 5 cable was referred to as "legacy cabling". What a profound statement. It sums up what we've been saying about generic Category 5 cable for a long time in this column. Generic Category 5 is a 6-year-old technology, which almost makes it a dinosaur in this evolving business. Sure, it is a huge installed base and more will be installed, but the future is in the higher performance systems. Take advantage of new technology. What network managers want is Enhanced Category 5 performance.