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2014: A Building Space Odyssey

What will communications requirements and systems be like 10 years from now? Certainly more streamlined and productive than they are today.


November 1, 2004  


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Pretend for a moment that it is Dec. 30, 2014 and you are in a meeting with members of the communications IT department of a major bank and the tenant services department of a major commercial real estate firm.

The meeting has been called to review the past, present and future communications requirements and systems.

The communications requirements for the structure and the tenant have significantly increased over the past 10 years and the growth pattern is expected to continue for the next decade at least.

One attendee comments that the communications infrastructure is the nervous system of the building and the tenant’s business operation. Without it, you are out of business.

Generally, we categorize the communications users in the world of commercial real estate into two groups: Building Owner/Occupant or Landlord/ Tenant

In both groups, we have identified a need for “The Partnership” between the structure and the occupants for many reasons: Functionality, Competitive Imperative, and Productivity.

Boost from BOMA

The functionality of the structure includes the scope of building safety and security, but it also includes the ability of the structure to increase productivity of the occupants.

Only in the past few years have we been able to quantify the enhanced productivity brought about by automating and improving the work environment. These financial rewards have surpassed all of the gains we captured through energy control and other basic automation services.

The credit for driving these improvements in building management goes to the Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA), and to a lesser extent to the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP).

We are an information-driven society and we must meet those ever increasing needs if we are to maintain a competitive offering.

Only a decade ago, the building owner did not take an active role in the communications infrastructure.

Many drivers changed that attitude, but perhaps, the single and most powerful was the National Electrical Code (NEC 2002) requirement for the “Removal Of Abandoned Cable”.

As this code requirement was adopted and enforced throughout North America, the involvement of the building owners and the occupants began to look for areas where the “partnership” could be enhanced for the mutual advantage of both parties.

Leases and lease language have come far during the past decade to the overall improvement of business community.

Prior to NEC 2002, the lease language dealing with tenant communications services and infrastructure (prior, during and after the lease) was anorexic. Now, we address safety, and security issues as well.

Some buildings are providing the communications networks and infrastructure for the tenants.

Early numbers indicate this may be a sustainable service offering. We are also seeing the increasingly greater market of specialized buildings with specialized communications services, beyond the traditional bank, hospital and school.

We continue to be plagued by the sins of the past in the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).

Asbestos and heavy metals are not easy to get rid of. Cables made with safer materials have replaced most communication cabling facilities in the structure. However, the legal nightmares still haunt us as we see large settlements being awarded for health related issues that were tied to the communications infrastructure materials.

Liability is a major concern as we strive to build a better partnership between the building and the occupant.

Cabling and safety: New proposals by the National Fire Protection Association for the next cycle of the NEC include the mandatory testing for toxicity and sustainability of communications cables.

At this time, NEC testing does not require any follow up tests to insure fire safe performance, which according to vocal critics is insane.

Some cables are made with materials that are not totally stable and can produce highly toxic gases over time or when heated.

The automated building now has sensor capability to identify these gases that can incapacitate or even kill the occupants. The interface between the sensor systems and the HVAC systems can close dampers to reduce the spread of contaminants like smoke or even clear gases.

Security: Security systems have come a long way over the past decade. Access control and monitoring systems are heavily dependent on the communication systems.

These systems are on duty 24/7 and provide a higher level of protection than we have ever enjoyed. Buildings and businesses without the necessary security are at a much higher risk.

Performance: The growing demand for information in all forms has placed a huge challenge on the communications infrastructure.

The demand for greater bandwidth continues to spiral upward with no ceiling in sight. Many copper-based communication cabling systems have reached their barrier of obsolescence. Fiber optic cabling still provides significant headroom, even to fiber cables systems installed over a decade ago.

Demand for copper cables is still strong, however, their market share is dwindling.

Wireless services including Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) are experiencing a huge growth in market demand. These services are inexpensive and offer a quick fix for homes and small offices as well as unusual facility challenges.

Copper-based cabling: Whether you need coax, STP, or UTP, you must deal with the limitations of the distance and bandwidth.

The materials have skyrocketed in costs over the past decade. Copper, and plenum-approved insulating and jacketing materials for cables are no longer less expensive than fiber optic alternatives.

Jacks for copper or fiber: There is a lot to know about jacks. From what we have learned so far, all jacks are not equal. Quality, quality control, durability, and functionality are high on the list of desired performance factors.

It seems some of the companies with the loudest hype have the lowest quality index.

(The best answers I have found so far are in the connection hardware from Superior Modular Products. SMP connectors and patch panels are available from Graybar, Anixter, CSC and Rexel.)

There is a lot to know about jacks. From what we have learned so far, all are not equal. Quality, quality control, durability, and functionality are high on the list of desired performance factors.

It seems that far too many lines have been written about datacom cable, and far too few words have been published about the connection hardware.

Shockingly, many “experts” don’t know JACK. As we started our search for the rest of the story about jacks, patch panels, and other associated connection hardware, we found that the material available for the contractor and end user about jacks was anorexic.

First, we reviewed the Web sites of the leading manufacturers of connection hardware. Then we looked at the “connection /cabling systems.” We still did not find definitive information to differentiate these products. Are all jacks the same? The answer is no!

There is mind-boggling technology involved in the connector hardware.

The technology involved in the jacks and patch panels have taken on a new and much more important role. Several factors have ratcheted up the value of the installed connection hardware.

The two most significant are fiber versus copper and the re-use of facilities to compensate for the requirement to remove abandoned cable (NEC 2002 & 2005 & 2008).

In the choice of a secure medium, fiber has a very bright future. The demand for increased bandwidth has continued to spiral to levels never anticipated.

In either medium, the connection hardware is and will be absolutely critical for functionality both today and in the future.

There is definitely still room for both, but the shrinking price gap for the cable and the connectors, coupled with increasing bandwidth demands, makes fiber worth looking at in almost all scenarios.

Pathways and spaces: There are some valuable assets that may
remain after the abandoned cable is identified and removed. Those hidden treasures are the wire and cable management and support systems.

Cable support hardware includes cable runways, cable trays, wire baskets, flexible steel cable trays, bridle rings and a myriad of J-Hooks and J-Hook trees. The focus on a substantial investment in support hardware has been absent from the building owners priorities.

Today’s structured cabling systems must allow for both the installation and the removal of datacom cabling in the workplace (particularly the multi-tenant environment).

Several key Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) committees are continuing to study these issues and upgrading the language in leases to maximize the values for both the tenant and the building owner.

A well designed and installed cable support hardware system will reduce installation and removal expense substantially.

This asset is highly reusable and will generate repetitive savings throughout many generations of tenant or occupant turnover. This is the permanent highway for the information systems in buildings.

HVAC – new rules of the road: The HVAC system is a potential Achilles heel for the structure. This system must be monitored to insure an effect response to threats or risks.

The monitoring function requires “communications” in two areas of concern: safety considerations (Unintentional acts, such as smoke, fire, gasses, or the spread of hazardous materials and security considerations (intentional acts such as a terrorist attack using the release of chemical or biological warfare weapons into the air systems.

Maybe it is time to get the communications cables out of the air systems or put them back into metal conduit. Today, some architects, engineers, and building designers are rethinking the use of return-air plenum space and recommending a change to ducted return air.

Cellular Floor Systems: We are also seeing a resurgence of the cellular floor systems. Each solution should be considered on a case-by-case basis. These alternative designs have a major influence on the selection of communications cables and the resultant costs. We have already seen ample examples of real savings being captured through cellular floors designs.

Facility management – Communications: One of the key elements of administration is the tagging or identifying the components of the infrastructure. The time involved up front to tag is returned 20-fold in timesavings for maintaining the infrastructure.

It adds value as well as life to the system. TIA 606-A Administration Standard is very helpful to the owner and installation contractor in selecting the correct administration plan based on the size and complexity of the system. “A well administrated system adds value to the owner’s investment.” Remember the old slogan “DYMO SAVES TYMO.” Well, it is still true.

Cable Asset Management Systems: Despite the potentially high cost of down time, most companies are still managing inside wiring by the seat of their pants. It is time IT departments capitalized on calming cable chaos.

Discussions of the performance of Wire A vs. Wire B do little to solve network management problems associated with wiring systems.

Sooner or later, the communications manager must ask two critical questions –Wat cables and topologies will serve my needs both now and in the future? What am I going to do with the cable once I get it?

The importance of these questions makes premises wiring a management issue.

An ideal wiring system provides a large number of services with a wide range of capabilities.

The system should balance cost and performance, and it should operate effectively both now and in the future. It must be designed to accommodate systems from multiple vendors in a flexible layout with few revisions or adaptations.

As networks grow more complex and data rates increase, it is inevitable that many networks will exceed the capacity of unshielded twisted-pair cable.

Today’s telecommunications facilities include a diverse array of components that must be tracked and managed. It is likely that more than one communications system serves a single user group.

These systems can have significant differences in hardware and architecture, yet may share facilities at several points.

This presents a dilemma when trying to build and use a database to “map” the communications facility.

As the database structure gets more specific in describing each particular system, it becomes complex and loses the ability to describe facilities common to many systems.

The alternative offered through Automated Cable Facility Records Systems is a simplified dataset structure based on attributes and relationships common to all communication systems.

Downtime for repairs: While the cost to wire a facility is easy to calculate, there is a second cost that is more difficult to determine and frequently far higher — the downtime in voice or data systems resulting from failures in building cabling.

Cable that is carefully placed and physically protected generally does not fail to deteriorate. However, every point at which the cable pairs are exposed for termination or cross-connect purposed poses a greater chance for service interruption. In addition, human activity in and around cable terminating hardware is often the cause of circuit problems and failures.

Without accurate records, the time required for a technician to repair outages may increase tenfold.

For example, without records it is not unusual for a technician to spend about two-thirds of their total time on a project finding a cable problem before repairs can begin.

To a business such as a brokerage firm, this downtime means thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

Such an incident occurred in a brokerage firm that lost its transaction terminals for 90 minutes.

The repair technician reported that it took 75 of those 90 minutes to locate the cable routing.

Physical plant loss: Abandoning cable can quickly become a major problem in a building where the average business has an ongoing stream of moves, adds and changes. In the case of a multi-tenant building, it is possible for the owner to have to rewire the entire building every three years.

Cabling asset management is a simple concept. Plan it. Install it. Label it. Test and document it. Now you have an asset, not an expense.

Testing and documentation: Many of the key BICSI insiders correctly forecasted that there would be an increased demand for substantially more robust structured connectivity components and support hardware for structured cabling systems.

Numerous large commercial real estate firms have already completed the process of evaluating the cabling facilities in their buildings in order to convert the trash to treasure.

Cable transfer: It turns out that there are literally millions of dollars of fully functional installed cabling that has been abandoned in some buildings. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that there are big savings to be captured.

The proper installation, labeling and documentation of the entire cabling system make the installed asset potentially transferable from tenant to tenant through the building owner.

There is now language in the leases that cover the responsibility for removal if the incoming tenant does not find the asset acceptable.

If a successful transfer of this asset is accomplished, then both the outgoing and incoming tenants will realize substantial savings.

In any event, the building owner gets ownership of the cabling support hardware asset. This approach is definitely a win/win scenario.

All hail the distributor: The electrical distributors and contractors have developed a communications cabling systems approach that benefits both the buyer and seller.

This competitive edge is designed to offer the best value/investment available and to give a distinct competitive advantage to the electrical contractor and installer. This unique partnership of distributor – contractor – installer – end-user is a proven success formula for dealing
with the market challenges in 2004, 2014 and beyond.

In the world of communications infrastructure, the distributor is a “no-brainer” for the connectivity solutions needed by the contractor.

The Graybar VIP program paved the way for this new relationship, however, we still see many contractors failing to use or capture the values available from the distributor.

The technology pace in the communications network industry is moving so quickly that a purchasing agent would have to be dedicated to new products and improvements on a full time basis.

If you add to the frustration, the need for product testing and quality control you now need another dozen or so full time employees.

Also, don’t forget the million-dollar test lab. The problems are more than just evaluating the product on a standalone basis, now you have to put it to work in a real network to calculate the actual performance with other components.

To do that type of testing, you will require some real “high dollar” techs.

The distributor is the communications cabling and connector markets largest buyer. For the manufacturers, maintaining the best working relationship possible with the distributor is an absolute must. The distributor is the focal point for the products to meet, combine, and create the network systems required in the marketplace.

The distributor has more purchasing clout than any other buyer in the marketplace. The distributor commands and delivers competitive prices far more effectively than any contractor could ever hope to achieve. If you are a contractor, you do not want to go it alone.

Frank Bisbee is with Communication Planning Corp. in Jacksonville, Fla., a telecom/datacom industry consulting firm (www.communicationplanning.com). Bisbee also provides a free monthly summary of industry news, “Heard On The Street, (HOTS)” at www.wireville.com.