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The Deciding Factor

Choosing a network connectivity solution to best meet your needs is no easy feat. There are a variety of issues and concerns to consider.


July 1, 2001  


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Times have sure changed in our industry over the last few years, and will continue to evolve very quickly in the future. In such a climate, it is not easy to get the answers you need to make a proper decision about your future networking needs.

Everything seems to be based on future bandwidth requirements and such things as full motion video, voice over IP, etc. The interesting thing is that most clients or vendors are guessing when it comes to future bandwidth requirements; most people are not really sure where we will be in six months, never mind a few years from now.

The solutions for the potential bandwidth issue also vary, depending on whom you talk to. If you ask your data consultant, you will probably be told to continue using the industry standard (Category 5e (enhanced) UTP). The consultant will most likely discourage you from installing a Category 6 UTP solution, as the industry standards have not been ratified — and it looks like we are at least a year away from any kind of decision.

If you talk to your IT staff, they are most likely to suggest one of the following options: either run fiber to the desktop (FTTD) or use a wireless solution. FTTD has been around for some time, although few companies have installed it. Of those who have installed it, most have chosen to leave it dark and connect copper until either the cost has come down enough, or the demand for bandwidth has grown enough to warrant it.

WHAT ABOUT WIRELESS?

Wireless technology has also been with us for a while, however the buzz surrounding it has only recently begun. This may have more to do with the Bluetooth enabled devices like, personal digital assistant (PDA) units, mobile phones (which act as a modem for your laptop to download e-mail, browsing the web and sending faxes through a PC card) and laptops (which will use the Bluetooth technology for connectivity over long distances), than with wireless LAN networks within a building or campus.

I recently attended a computer seminar that addressed new technology and hardware. Discussions were heavily based on wireless (Bluetooth) technology and the physical size/weight of the new laptops. It was interesting to hear the data on the usage of office desktop PCs (i.e., they are mostly used for word processing and project management type functions). A small, but specific number, of users require the biggest and fastest machines available. A fair amount of time was also spent discussing the value of server-based applications (thin client) that would be easier and cheaper to upgrade and support than workstation applications. The concept was to provide the high-speed network for the users who require it and not to all users on the network or within the company.

DETERMINING NEED

New emphasis is to be put on the accessory side of technology; the feeling is that the demand will be for real-time information rather than the volume of information. This does not mean that high-speed networks will disappear, only that the client/industry will become more selective in using them. Certain users will always require high-speed networks, while others require either versatility or flexibility. We will be required not only to determine what overall clients needs are, but also the individual needs of each and every end user.

What this means is that we need to spend more time understanding the requirements of each user, in addition to the user group, before we determine the network wiring infrastructure. You may find that a company/building requires not only the availability of high-speed bandwidth, but also the flexibility of a wireless network. We may be required to combine a multitude of platforms into a common network for a single client within the same premise.

For example, you may find that the client has a number of staff sharing the same office space in a hotelling or campus type environment, has a 7 x 24 helpdesk requirement with voice over IP, has a development lab for application testing or requires a training centre, and requires analysts and word-processing staff. This customer, whether a large or small company, would require the same type of multi-infrastructure planning to allow it to grow with both its customers needs and its own.

ON THE HORIZON

So, what is the future of horizontal infrastructure wiring going to look like? Well, no one can tell for sure. But I can tell you one thing: it will consist of a combination of cabling and wireless systems. It will have copper and/or fiber to the desktop, with some form of wireless system to provide users with as flexible a network as possible.

With the high demand for 7 x 24 x 365 access and customer service requirements, we will not be given the luxury to re-design complete networks. And companies will not have the available downtime required to implement this type of upgrade.CS

Keith Fortune, C.E.T., is Communications Facilities Manager with the Bank of Montreal and a member of Cabling Systems’ Editorial Advisory Board.


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