Cabling Jackets are beginning to take on a new role. The jackets are now part of the performance formula for high performance copper cable constructions. In order to truly understand the issues involved in this scenario we should look back into the historical development of the communications cabling business. As we follow the development of the cabling business and particularly the jacketing aspect, we find that politics and finances were the biggest drivers in the product. Technology was important, but not the leader in the decision process UNTIL NOW!
The earliest communications cabling was telegraph wire. A simple metallic conductor without jacketing material. Actually that is not true. Telegraph wires were both jacketed and insulated with AIR. Air is a great insulator, but it leaves a lot to be desired as a protective jacket.
Telephony brought us new challenges with new materials and other concerns. The other concerns, in order of importance, were cost, ease of installation, product stability, and safety. Along came more regulation and supervision and the safety issue moved up the scale of importance.
Prior to 1968 and the Carterfone Decision which allowed the end user to purchase their own telephone system and wiring, the communication cabling fell into two distinct categories. The telephone company network facilities which could be fully addressed as a cost item in their tariff filings as a long term asset.
These cables, sometimes called "long lines", were selected for the best performance and long term utilization because the operating telephone company could recover the cost. However, the cable which was utilized as the distribution system for the customers PBX (Private Branch Exchange) or key system was a completely different story. The telephone company ran into a "brick wall" of resistance from subscribers when they attempted to charge the actual cost for premise cabling.
The telephone companies were faced with rooms full of unhappy business subscribers protesting all of their rate increases whenever they attempted to pass tariffs which placed the full cost of the premise cabling into the rate structure. As an example, a subscriber could have four phones moved for about $15.00 each. The actual cost was probably close to $250.00-$300.00. This was the principal reason behind a different set of material and construction standards for the premise wiring. With no way to recover their investment in premise wiring, the telephone companies frequently chose the minimum cost route to provide the basic service on premise. At that time the material of choice for premise wiring systems was PVC jackets with PVC insulation on cables that were usually 25 pair or greater.
Back in 1968, fire codes were in their infancy in addressing the telephone company installations. The telephone company was everybody's friend and a political powerhouse that no one wanted to take on. The tax assessor had an even bigger problem addressing this asset (premise wiring) because of a real lack of records and a constantly churning market. The phone companies had been growing in power and market size at a phenomenal rate since World War II. There were approximately 2,500 telephone companies in the USA and the Bell system controlled 80% of the market in only 20% of the territory with just 23 companies.
GTE was a distant second. AT&T with their long distance network, huge manufacturing arm and amazing research unit controlled the top 23 operating telephone companies in the United States. They made the PVC and they sold it to their operating companies. The machinations of the cost game would have befuddled even the most sophisticated computer based analysis. During the 70's with the development with the interconnect industries and the long distance competitors we frequently heard this process described as cross subsidy.
The 70's brought about a complete change in the communications industry. Competition forced a reappraisal of costs. The justice department charged the Bell system with antitrust and they announced their intent to try to break up the Bell system. By the end of the 70's the market had seen several generations of telecommunications systems migrate through their pocketbooks. Every time they changed communication systems they rewired. This routine was getting old and awfully hard on the budget of the end user. Fire codes were being adopted in major municipal areas and a national fire protection set of standards was falling into place. Still the PVC cabling was king.
On the computer scene, the main frame was dominant, but not very distributed. Main frame terminals were connected with heavy and expensive coaxial cables. IBM told the world that you can not connect computers with twisted pair telephone wire. IBM was almost right.
The 80's saw the break up of the Bell system, the emergence of "skinny wire" telecommunication systems, a plenum approved jacketing material to eliminate conduit, and the PC (probably just a passing fad). In 1982, the communication manager of a fortune 500 company told us the fastest we will transmit over our telecommunications cable will be 64Kbps kilobits per second.
The main frames were topped out at 1 Mbps 1 million bits per second. And that would only run on coax. This opinion was generally shared throughout the market place. Hindsight is 20/20. Unfortunately, at that time we were considered radicals to espouse the design of high performance (more than 1 Mbps) cabling utilizing UTP. Jacketing was not considered a player in the formula for crosstalk or mutual capacitance, and never part of the attenuation issue.
About that time we were looking at how much money the end user could spend with us on other equipment from the savings they captured by using plenum approved cable instead of conduit. The 60's, 70's and 80's saw a trend of new construction in commercial structures using almost 100% return-air-plenum. The savings over metal conduit construction was between 70 and 85%. This left quite a few dollars on the table and plenum cables could be very expensive and still be the preferred choice over conduit. This market spawned a number of plenum approved jacketing materials to compete with the initial plenum approved market leader, Teflon® FEP. Products became more plentiful and competition forced a reduction in price. Ausimont U.S.A. Inc. manufactured Halar® and Penwalt made Kynar®. And later a number of plenum approved hybrid constructions with PVC were introduced. The only fluoropolymers in this market were Teflon® and Halar®.
Teflon® first came to our attention as the non-stick surface coating in our space age frying pan. DuPont definitely had a winner with Teflon®. DuPont polymer products department had a shining star with Teflon® as a jacketing material. It was approved by name as the original material for plenum application in New York City's local law #5, and that was in the face of strong opposition by the unions which installed the conduit.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) was sweeping the country with approval and adoption of their codes in city after city. UL approved cables were the hottest new item in the market for distribution systems. When PVC finally developed a mixture that would pass the UL tests, the price for plenum jacketing materials headed for the basement like elevator with no cable. A lot of buyers stuck with Halar® and Teflon® because it worked better. They didn't know why. It just worked better! Today we know why.
The 90's challenged us with networking. The PC became the universal machine. The original PC CPU was pproximately 4.7MHz over a limited bus. Within six years from their introduction we saw a real increase in capabilities and speed. By 1990 we saw a 40mhz CPU with a far more powerful bus and software that could communicate between the units. The price had fallen from $15,000 per unit at introduction to $1,500 per unit. The million dollar main frame was still maxed out at a network speed of 1Mbps. The PC saw no such limitations. In five years the PC was demanding ten to twenty Mbps network capabilities. In 1995 we were talking 100Base T-100Mbps over UTP. That really challenged the cabling industry.
The 80's and the 90's also brought together manufacturers in the cabling industry to set standards for construction and performance. The EIA (Electronic Industry Association) and the TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association) a manufacturer organization (without media or end user involvement) developed a set of standards which was widely distributed to a market place that was overwhelmed with confusion in their attempts to satisfy growing demands and rapid developing technology.
The EIA/TIA standards came up with a "set of categories" for cable construction and performance. This was modeled from the " levels" program authored by Anixter. IBM had a game plan too, but their successes were getting smaller every day. The main frame was eclipsed by the PC which was a run away product outside of IBM control.
EIA/TIA 568 standards were submitted to ANSI and issued to the market place. The categories for cabling were 3-5. Category 5 was the highest level of performance in their program. CAT5 called for cable that could run at speeds up to 100MHz with 100Mbps to a maximum distance of 100 meters. If this sounds to you like the vision from the communication manager back in 1982, YOU ARE RIGHT!
Guess who was back in the drivers seat! DuPont with good old Teflon®FEP. Teflon®FEP has the lowest dielectric constant of any reasonable solid insulating material known to man. It is a stable fluoropolymer resin that is easy to work with, pliable and can deliver the performance required by CAT5.
EIA/TIA 568 category 5 was an over night success. The end users had just been through 25 years of migration strategy marketing with new products replacing existing systems faster than the checks can clear the bank. The end user was fed up with being everybody's whipping boy. They wanted some foundation with a barrier of obsolescence. They turned to the wiring as their barrier to obsolescence. The distribution system was the highway over which their telephone systems and computer systems delivered the information which was the competitive edge.
The demand for CAT5 cable was off the scale. It seemed everybody wanted to buy the best you could get, so we didn't have to rewire all over again. Problem! Teflon®FEP is not a product manufactured in large quantity and there was only one other manufacturer around with the same product. Soon all of the FEP was consumed by the demand for CAT5. But demand did not slow down.
Soon manufacturers were working on alternate constructions employing polyolefin for one or two of the pairs using FEP on the remainder. With these constructions they could still meet the MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS. However, a new phenomena came into play. The jackets were part of the formula for performance. AT&T provided us with a really good example.
AT&T first CAT5 plenum product was part #2061B with all FEP insulation and a plenum approved PVC jacket. Remember return air plenum is the dominant construction in the market place. To meet increasing demand, AT&T subsequently introduced part #2061C which was three pairs with FEP one pair with polyolefin and a Halar® fluoropolymer jacket. Halar® was chosen because it delivered the necessary contribution to the performance required in CAT5 and UL910. Subsequently to meet an even higher demand, AT&T introduced part #2061D, a 2x2 construction with a PVC (plenum) thick wall jacket.
Now we see the emergence of the "HIGH FIVE" category 5 cable with capabilities significantly above the CAT5 minimum standards. In order to deliver these additional performance capabilities new construction methods are being employed and ...
You guessed it! Teflon®FEP is back in the driver seat as the insulation material of choice. We are also starting to see the jacketing material as part of the formula to extend the performance of the overall construction. What's beyond HIGH FIVE is obviously more speed, better performance and a greater barrier to obsolescence. The leading manufacturers of cable technology in the copper based environment are learning an old lesson AGAIN. Differentiation is essential to keep the market and the products from gravitating to the lowest possible denominator.
We conducted a detailed review of the specifications by the HIGH FIVE manufacturers and discovered that each has taken a slightly unique approach to achieve their best effort. All of them have invested millions in developing unique quality products. As we review their specs we looked for additional ways to deliver improved results in attenuation and the resultant impact on other performance measurements. And guess what?
You've probably guessed who is back in the drivers seat! DuPont with good old Teflon®FEP. Teflon®FEP has the lowest dielectric constant of any reasonable solid insulating material known to man. It is a stable fluoropolymer resin that is easy to work with, pliable and can more than deliver the performance required by CAT5. The big difference is ... we will be back to using Teflon®FEP on...
Amazing! Isn't it? If we had demanded the best possible construction from the industry in the beginning with the knowledge of methods that we have today, the cable would have been a FEP/FEP construction. The good news is we figured it out and DuPont and Daikin (the other maker of FEP) have maximized their efforts for production. DuPont has a major program well under way to substantially increase the volume of Teflon®FEP available for the market. With the growing availability of Category 5 cables, differentiated by materials and performance, we will see a smarter end user and contractor market selecting cables designed to fit their specific needs. Everyone knows that an automobile is transportation, but not everyone buys the same brand, style, or performance.