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Crystal Ball Gazing

The days of double-digit growth may be over, but there is definitely light at the end of the "fiber" for network cabling.


December 1, 2002  


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The economic slowdown that has dogged the cabling industry began in the fall of 2000 and the events of Sept. 11 simply dug the hole even deeper. It’s been a difficult time for the industry as we try to ride out this slump. Many companies are restructuring in an effort to survive in today’s competitive marketplace.

Will we again see the growth experienced in 1999 and 2000? Likely not anytime soon. However, if the experts are to be believed, we may finally see things improve as we move through 2003 toward 2004.

A recent Globe and Mail report suggests that the information and communications technology (ICT) industry is already making a comeback. It is currently the growth leader in Canada, although that’s a fact that many of us may find hard to believe. The big difference from the recent past is that the annual growth in ICT is in the five to 10 per cent range, compared to the heady years of the late ’90s, when 15 to 25 per cent growth was the norm.

DRIVING FORWARD

In the cabling industry specifically, some of last year’s driving forces will help grow the number of jobs available and push technology forward. These include the ratification of Category 6; approval by the IEEE of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard; and the continuing growth of wireless. We shouldn’t forget the training front either, as some provinces have recently created an accreditation program that includes standardized testing for cable installers.

The approval of the Category 6 specification in the current EIA/TIA568-B standard eliminates the uncertainty surrounding the draft standard. This should encourage reluctant network owners to finally move ahead with infrastructure upgrades. While some say there is no current need to move to Category 6, we know by past experience that the majority of our customers will start to demand it. The added bandwidth available with Category 6 installations will undoubtedly prompt engineers to look at technologies that can use this wider pipe, further driving industry growth.

The approval of the 10-Gigabit standard has also changed the way we look at fiber installs. The various fiber types installed in today’s network backbones will likely not be capable of sustaining the required distances when they switch to 10-Gigabit Ethernet. This will promote new fiber to support the wavelength and modal bandwidth required to support this technology.

NEW TEST GUIDELINES

These new technologies also mean changes in how we test our fiber infrastructure. Today a TIA TR42 committee is working on TSB-140, the new guidelines for testing premise-based fiber installs.

Wireless has also opened up some interesting opportunities. Some installers suggest this has created a new “niche” for them, as the number of new wireless deployments increases. When enterprises conduct a proper site survey, and begin to deploy all of these wireless access points around the buildings, they realize that they require copper cable to each of their locations. This has helped keep some installers going in a tough market, and the trend to wireless shows no sign of slowing.

As we look to the future, we can expect to see more fiber-rich connections in premise wiring. To meet the demands for reducing costs in today’s economic climate, there is talk about using the new Tiny Telecommunication room. TIA-569-B refers to this as the “Telecommunications Enclosure” (TE). This concept pushes fiber out to these smaller distributed locations. However, this may not be economically feasible for all situations. Only the future will tell this story.

Looking back at what has happened and ahead at what is expected in the short term, it seems evident that the dark economic times are not quite over. However, there is reason for optimism in the positive trends we are seeing.

By taking advantage of new technologies and business opportunities, the network cabling industry can certainly expect to thrive again — but likely in a different form, with new services and some different players.

Brad Masterson is Canadian Product Manager for Fluke Networks based in Mississauga, Ont. He has been involved in the field of networking and network testing since 1995. Masterson is a Certified Engineering Technologist registered with OACETT and is a member of BICSI.


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