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HOTS 12/1999

Issue: December 1999

By: Frank Bisbee


Featured Story


If the next decade is anything like the past decade, you had better buckle your seatbelt and hold on to your hat. The speed on the Information Superhighway is getting much faster. Through networking and the Internet, we now have access to more information than we ever thought possible. The information is growing larger and faster than anyone anticipated. The need to connect is essential and the need for speed is unquenchable.

Today, we reflect on the past decade and the developments as though it were a century. From the '80s through the '90s, we were part of the Information Revolution. First, the mainframe computer and then the personal computer evolved as standalone units and later networking configurations. The mainframes communicated over a network at serial speeds of 1Mbps (Million bits per second). Today, the PC networks can communicate over LAN networks at serial speeds of 1Gbps (Billion bits per second).

In the cabling world, this significant progress spells challenge. The computer industry has challenged the cabling industry to deliver an infrastructure which can support the speeds and performance necessary for the new high speed LANs.

During the past decade, the manufacturers of cables and connectors have wrestled with these challenges. Today, the cabling industry can proclaim victory in its challenge to deliver the "goods". It has not been an easy battle. The challenges to standardization have come from many sources. Codes and Standards bodies have made diligent efforts to keep pace with the wildly accelerating technology.

Anixter, one of the world's leading distributors of communications cabling products, developed a Levels Program to benchmark the products and performance. Later, Anixter released the early levels program to the EIA/TIA (Electronics Industries Association /Telecommunications Industry Association) to develop a set of standards which would be re-named "Categories" and submitted to ANSI (American National Standards Institute) for approval. The EIA/TIA Category 5 was the highest level of performance standard approved and it stuck. For most of the last decade, while technology zoomed ahead, the industry failed to provide any ANSI standard superior to the EIA/TIA Category 5.

Anixter to the rescue again. When it became apparent that the ANSI standard process was bogged down, Anixter introduced the Levels Program again. The new Levels Program began where the Categories program left off. This important contribution gave the cabling industry a new set of "de facto standards" to keep pace with technology and the demands of the end users.

Many industry insiders feel that the EIA/TIA/ANSI standards will approve additional Categories in a follow-the-leader process behind the Levels Program. In a recent trip to the Anixter technology laboratory, we were given a preview of a new and higher set of Levels (a.k.a. Levels 2000) for the next decade. This new set of Levels will address throughput and a match of materials to deliver an active network which can perform without the limitations of "resends". A white paper from Prestolite Wire Corporation pointed out that only 2% resends reduces the throughput on a 100Mbps LAN to 4Mbps. OUCH! The problem was we had no technology to measure these areas until recently. Just because the hub's green light is on, doesn't mean you are getting what you expect for throughput.

On the Codes front, we are seeing proposals to limit cumulative fuel load in the plenum. The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) is considering revisions to the National Electric Code (NEC) which will address these issues. One proposal was "put one in, take one out" for return air plenum cabling. Fire safety is important and an area that we cannot overlook, or leave in bureaucratic purgatory.

On the Associations front, we see lots of activity. NECA (National Electrical Contractors Association) has blossomed with the revenue recognition in the communications cabling business. The IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) has made significant strides to recognize new levels of skill and training requirements in the low voltage cabling world.

BICSI (Building Industry Consulting Services International) has expanded to a true International format. On the educational front, BICSI now offers almost 55% of the available training in cabling design and installation. Their offering is outstanding but not to be confused with a licensed professional engineer (PE). BICSI's membership, now estimated at approximately 17,000, continues an impressive growth.

The Association of Cabling Professionals (ACP) has exploded on to the scene during the last half of this decade. By BICSI's own estimates, ACP now offers approximately 38% of the training for cabling installation and design. Most of the training is offered through the Cabling Business Institute (Dallas, TX) and more recently through the College of Technology/State of Connecticut at the Tunxis Community-Technical College. This program will continue to expand throughout the technical training programs for the State of Connecticut. ACP has experienced remarkable growth and is now rated as the second most powerful cabling association. ACP has offered a series of successful "Cabling The Workplace" annual Technical Training Conferences and Exhibitions.

There are many other associations which are focusing on the challenges of cabling for their membership. For example: NAIOP (National Association of Industrial and Office Properties), BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association), AHA (American Hospital Association), ACUTA (Association of Colleges and Universities Telecommunications Administrators).

Fiber vs. Copper

We all heard the battle cry "Fiber To The Desktop". We have heard that propaganda for more than 2 decades. "It ain't happenin'!" The fiber optic cable has provided an excellent highway to run the backbone cable facilities and "collapse" the distance limitations for transmission. The world of fiber optic cable is divided into two groups: Single mode (this is the long line preferred cable) and Multi-mode (this cable was supposed to compete with high-performance copper in the last hundred meters to the desktop). Two years ago, the fiber optic industry quietly acknowledged some severe limitations and problems with Multi-mode fiber optic cable AND the LED (Light-Emitting Diode) would not "wink" much faster than 350Mbps. Copper can signal effectively at more than 5Gbps . . . and that's the name of that tune.

Copper has defied every barrier of obsolescence and speed limitations, which the industry has arbitrarily put in its path. Fiber on the other hand, has failed miserably to deliver the big bandwidth to the desktop at a competitive price. However, fiber optic cable is the king of the backbone in the distribution system.

The Association of Cabling Professionals (ACP) is developing into a Wired Community! Be sure to check this website TODAY for details on a free new interactive area within the site. Word has it that it is modeled on a highly successful site elsewhere on the Web. We also hear that the Grand Opening of this new part of Wireville will be attended by a cross-section of the most influential people in the cabling industry. This might well be the most important networking opportunity the cabling industry has seen in years! BE THERE!

Cabling Business Magazine is ALMOST FREE. You have to fill out a subscription renewal every 6 months. If you haven't been doing this, start NOW. Subscription forms are in the magazine and on the website or call (214) 328-1717. This is a small sacrifice for such a big value.

Be sure and check the class schedule for Cabling Business Institute in Dallas. CBI has also added the ACP certified 200 course to their offering. The have a world-class training facility with regular classes on installation, structured wiring with Category 5 certification, LANs, fiber optics and design.


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