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Installation – Focus on the residential growth spurt

The residential cabling market is on an upswing. A variety of factors -- and technologies -- are largely responsible for this growth.


July 1, 2001  


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The residential cabling market has grown significantly over the past few years. In 1998, we witnessed a US$67-million-dollar market that cabled 34,500 homes. That figure grew to US$147 million (and 83,900 cabled homes) in 1999. The market grew further still in 2000, during which time 279,000 homes were expected to be cabled. Projections show that in 2005 we will see a US$2 billion dollar market for residential cabling.

The demand for home cabling is real, with many drivers producing this demand — for instance, the everyday Internet. My own home is cabled with fiber, coax and category 5e UTP so I can have the everyday Internet on at least four computers in the house (not to mention the networked printers). These media are recommended by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) 570-A to carry voice and data traffic throughout the home.

Many other influences in the cabling market have helped create this demand. For instance, in the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) now mandates that a minimum of Category 3 cable be placed within the home for telecommunications. This order will help cross-talk problems that have been identified across the country.

There are several factors propelling technology into the home. Powerline Carrier (PLC) has been around for many years in the form of X-10 and is now being implemented more and more in homes to control lighting and other systems like video surveillance. Newer technologies such as IEEE 1394b, HomePNA, and HomeRF (including IEEE 802.11b) are also making the connected home a reality and helping to bridge the gap between the “away office” and the “home office”.

With all of this great technology, I have often heard it said: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have your whole house cabled with one type of cable?” Well, what would that one type be? Category 5? I think not. How about Category 6 or Category 7 or Category 8? Well, if not copper cable, how about fiber? Just think about an all-fiber cabled house. And should we only use 50/125 m or 62.5/125 m? Maybe singlemode? There is even a chance for plastic optical fiber (POF). The reality is that when it comes to one type of cabling in the home, it is not going to happen — at least not for a long time.

The residential market is not being driven by cable. It is being driven by the wants and need of the homeowner. However, cable is an enabler of technology and thereby provides benefit to the homeowner. There are two sides of this market to think about — existing homes and new homes. For existing homes, there are several options out there: wireless with IEEE 802.11b, HomePNA using your existing phone lines, not to mention the use of Bluetooth and other protocols for getting data around. But what about the limits of these wireless and adapted to existing wire technologies? Most will get you to 10 Mb/s and not much more — at least not economically today. Table 1 below outlines what we can expect to see in the near future.

As this table points out, several technologies will not keep up with demand for the future. However, cabling will keep up with the demand for bandwidth. Therefore, if you are looking at your customers’ future needs, cabling is a great way to go.

As an example, IEEE 1394b is now complete and is beginning to be seen on equipment being released into the market. IEEE 1394b promises to be a very robust protocol that will help run all of your home needs, and can extend its throughput to 1.6 Gb/s. The nice thing about this is that many of the components in the home can be cabled with one type of cable. But that is not necessarily true for other systems such as lighting control, security, and home theatre systems.

MOVING ALONG

Most — if not all — systems providers want to use their own cable. Last year, several industry manufacturers and associations were invited to a TR-42.2 standards meeting. (At that time, TR-42.2 was making an effort to standardize on cabling for the residence including control, security and home audio). The attendees confirmed their cabling needs by stating: “We are pigs. We want our own wire.”

The first few meetings of this standards committee — since hearing the above opinion — have seen some dichotomies in the cabling approach. One camp believes in the “one cable fits all” approach, whereas the other wants to enlist other cables typically used in the home. So goes the world of cabling standards. Yet, the true intent of this standards group is to allow for several media choices today, and try to migrate the equipment manufacturers toward one or two media throughout the home.

One thing that has been agreed upon, and is specified in TIA-570-A, is that cabling has to be tested. As we approach the high data rates, we certainly want to ensure that the cabling will support the needs of customers. Therein lies the reason for a full bandwidth test of the media for all cabling parameters. This may not always be easy for installers, as they have many obstacles in their way. First, they may need to test the cable (at least for continuity) during the rough-in stage of the building construction to prove that it did not have any problems. Then, after dodging the nails from the siding and sheetrock nails or screws, they have to test the cable again, before handing it over to the owner or the systems integrator.

A LOOK FORWARD

Several other issues in the residential arena are currently being explored. TR-42.2 has just released a ballot on security cabling which does not specify just one type of cable. TR-42.2 will also be releasing a ballot on control cabling after editing it at its August 2001 meeting. The control systems will also not specify one type of cabling at this time. Work still needs to be done regarding audio cabling in the home, but it is not likely that one cable will be specified in this instance either.

As there is quite a large residential market, there are several choices available when it comes to cabling or alternative delivery systems like wireless. There are also many things we should keep in mind as we enter this market. For instance, we will have to install cable to meet the demands of networks in the future. And while we are trying to move standards towards a limited number of media types, that will take some time. In the meantime, cable all new homes with a minimum of compliance to TIA-570-A, and other equipment (like security and audio) to equipment manufacturer specifications. Another option may be to provide pathways throughout the home from one distribution point. Finally, ensure that you test your cable to meet your future needs and the needs of the home.CS

Bob Jensen, RCDD, has more than 25 years of technical and managerial experience in the telecommunications industry, including 18 years with Bellcore and Bell Atlantic. He is the Product Leader for Fluke’s Optical Fiber products. He also sits as an Alternate Member to Panel 16 of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and is very active in TIA TR-42 standards, where he holds several leadership positions.

TABLE 1 – TECHNOLOGY BANDWIDTH OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL YEARS
Today 1-3 Years 4+ Years
Copper 4-pair cabling 100 Mb/s 800 Mb/s ?
Phoneline (HomePNA) 10 Mb/s 20 Mb/s ?
Powerline 300 kb/s 10 Mb/s ?
Wireless (HomeRF) 10 Mb/s 100 Mb/s ?
Application Requirements 25-50 Mb/s 100+ Mb/s 4 gigabit

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