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Beware the hype

Like every other industry, the structured cabling arena has its share of marketing hype.


May 1, 2001  


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These days, marketing people are working hard to convince us of the need for a variety of modern contraptions — from remote control lawn mowers to refrigerators that are connected to the Internet. We are often made to feel that if we are not properly equipped with these devices, we are “second-class” citizens. Even worse, it is often impossible to separate the truth from the hype.

Things in the structured cabling arena do not appear to be any different. For instance, many of the articles I have read of late espouse the benefits of fiber-to-the-desk (FTTD). I don’t know about you, but I have been hearing about FTTD for over 10 years and we are still no closer to it — if anything, we are further away.

I am concerned about users who got caught up in this “FTTD hype” when the centralized fiber topology first came out, allowing for 300-metre cable lengths. If they bought original versions of 50 um or 62.5 um multimode fiber (160/500MHz), they will have a difficult time supporting 100 Mbps Ethernet on cable runs greater than 220 metres. (Note: 200/500 MHz bandwidth versions support 100 Mbps Ethernet to 300 metres).

When you add this to the fact that IEEE is working on 10 Gb/s, which will only run 29 metres on this same cable (150/500 MHz), and that TIA is getting ready to finalize a new 50 um multimode fiber designed to reach distances of 300 metres, users are left wondering just what grade of fiber they should place.

And what about voice over IP (VoIP)? IP telephones seem to be the latest application to potentially further delay the deployment of FTTD. Users undergoing internal trials are realizing that not only are there network latency issues to deal with, but these sets — at twice the price of regular sets — need power. It is impossible to send a DC voltage through optical fiber, though some manufacturers are developing hybrid cables that have both fiber strands and copper pairs for these types of applications. And while local power can be used, it is expensive to place mini-UPS units or provide UPS power to each workstation.

COPPER NOT UNSCATHED

Like its fiber counterpart, copper is also plagued with hype. Case in point: the proposed Category 6 cabling systems. Since Category 5e supports 1 Gbps Ethernet, why do I need any of the proposed Category 6 systems I keep reading about?

Apparently I am not alone in my thinking, as the sales for proposed Category 6 have not been quite what the cabling manufacturers had hoped for. As a result, some cabling manufacturers recently developed a 1 Gbps Ethernet solution to take advantage of the bandwidth afforded by a proposed Category 6 cabling system. Armed with this technology, they approached IEEE looking for support and found none. Still looking to find a need to warrant the selling of proposed Category 6, they looked to another group within the cabling standards body and found support for the development of this new Ethernet standard.

By the way, if you did happen to buy into a “Category 6” solution that incorporated products from different vendors, it may not meet the Category 6 specifications once the standard is finalized. As it turns out, certain tests performed by many manufacturers (who all use the same agreed upon test set-up) have such variances that the components pass when tested individually, but may fail when tested in a channel configuration. The cabling standards committees are working feverishly to resolve this interoperability issue.

WHERE TO TURN

And so the debate continues between the fiber and copper marketing players. Meanwhile, wireless technology providers have been quietly developing commercial building standards and improving their products.

Fiber. Copper. Wireless. What is the end user to do? I would suggest that before any discussions begin on the physical layer side, it is worthwhile taking a good look at the present and future applications that your network will need to support, and the environment in which it must operate. Determine which applications each of your business groups is looking at securing funds for, and provision both the logical and physical layers accordingly.

Some environments may very well need FTTD to the desk to handle noise and distance requirements. Some environments may even warrant the premium of proposed Category 6 cabling systems. Bottom line: while looking to the future, invest in the best cabling system your budget will allow. If there is still any doubt, at least ensure there are adequate pathways and spaces available for any potential growth or application changes. You may not have the right media immediately available, but at least you will have a way to get it there and have a place to terminate it.

TIA and CSA have done a very good job of passing on the growing pains of others by providing minimum recommendations. It may be worthwhile reading — they are not full of hype and they just might help you sleep better.CS

Mark B. Maloney, RCDD, is a Senior Consultant with Ehvert Technology Services in Toronto and a member of Cabling Systems’ Editorial Advisory Board.


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