By Dennis Mazaris, President & Founder, Concert Technologies
Remember the good old days when network cabling requirements consisted of telephone connections and precious little else? If you were moving into a new building, you had one telephone number to remember - that of the Bell Telephone Co. Computer cabling was proprietary and complicated. Eventually coaxial and shielded cabling systems became the norm. Then, with the advent of local area networks and the breakup of the Bell system, our world changed. By the late 1980s, proprietary network cabling systems were being phased out. Even then, knowledgeable observers were predicting the future: increasing dependency on network cabling.
Those predictions were accurate. Manufacturers have developed cabling systems that accommodate both voice and data transmission. Open systems have become universal, and proprietary systems are hard to find. Standard media and connecting components such as jacks and patch panels are UTP and STP. In the United States, UTP cabling systems have become dominant; shielded cabling systems are more common in Europe.
As we move toward higher data rates - 100 Mbps and beyond - we are once again on the precipice of a major change. That shift is reflected in new standards. TIA/EIA 568-A and the new 569-A are major standards revisions that reflect changes in installation requirements and new rules for manufacturer warranty programs.
The changes come none too soon. Already, a majority of U.S. businesses are now as dependent upon network cabling systems as they were on basic phone services in the 1970s. The fact is, in many offices, every major system is "wired." Today, if a network cabling system goes down, we lose not only phones and computers, we lose faxes, building controls, even photocopiers. As shown in the illustration, downtime can cost more than $50,000 per hour. Corporate Information Technology (IT) departments realize, too, that 50 percent of network downtime is attributable to cabling problem. Clearly, network cabling is critical to profitability.
With so much at stake, it is sobering to learn that of all existing Category 5 installations, more than 20 percent do not adhere to TIA/EIA 568-A standards. Of course, it is not widely recognized that, although many "certified" Category 5 testers were manufactured and sold as early as November 1993, the standards for testing Cat 5 links and channels (TIA/EIA TSB-67) were not published until October 1995! And, as we might have suspected, unusual phenomena do occur at the faster speeds that the new standards are supposed to accommodate. Have you heard of "delay skew" and "short link resonance"? Companies who run networks under 16 Mbps have little to worry about. But how many will continue to do so?
How should companies approach these issues? When they install new networks, they must now add a third technical support specialist to the team - the network cabling consultant (NCC). This is a professional who is familiar with current and emerging standards that will affect network cabling in the near future.
Choose a network cabling consultant who is a registered communications distribution designer (RCDD). This is a professional qualification bestowed by the organization known as Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI). Companies should also ensure that the NCC has worked with projects that resemble their own in type and scope.
Eventually, specialized NCCs for network cabling will be commonplace. As communications and computers merge into a virtually indistinguishable basic business service, the network cabling systems that allow them to function will be recognized as critical operational necessities. NCCs will come to be accepted as essential team members in the design and installation of our new world of network cabling.
BICSI is a Tampa, Florida-based not-for-profit telecom association focused on low-voltage wiring issues. The mission of the organization, which has more than 13,000 members in 50 countries, is to lead the telecommunication industry in the enhancement of quality services and methods around the globe by providing excellent education, promoting skill sharing, and assessing knowledge with professional registration programs. For more information, call (800) 242-7405 or visit the Web site, www.bicsi.org.