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Got CAT Questions?

John Siemon has answers

May 1, 2000  

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Talking about cabling standards with John Siemon can make one’s head spin. He has all of the drafts, amendments and complexities in his memory bank, and can expound on them with such precision that it is hard for the more “standards-challenged” among us to keep up.

But a conversation with Mr. Siemon, VP of Engineering at the Siemon Company of Watertown, CT will leave you thinking long after the discussion has ended — and that is something only a unique individual can achieve.

And unique he is, with an impressive list of accomplishments that includes engineering degrees from The University of New Hampshire and Yale University, numerous patents and countless published research articles.

Talk about standards

Despite all of this, “I am probably best known for my standards work,” says Mr. Siemon.

Mr. Siemon, 40, is Chairman of the TIA TR42.1 Subcommittee responsible for commercial and building automation cabling and Chairman of the U.S. advisory group on international cabling standards (ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 25/WG 3).

So he knows of what he speaks, especially when it comes to Category 6, which he says will “realistically” be finalized in March, 2001. While he can talk at length about its benefits, perhaps it is his views on the marketing aspects of the standard that are most interesting — especially when asked about premature or potentially false vendor claims.

“Right now, even for the release specifications, there are false claims that are going on,” Mr. Siemon says. “There are probably 15 or 20 manufacturers of these types of products in the U.S. market, and many more if you look at the international market. And it’s disappointing for me to see the number that actually don’t meet their product claims — and that also goes for Category 5 and 5e requirements.”

He says the testing process for these products is arduous. “And we just don’t see that people are doing diligence in terms of making sure that their product claims are being met across the board.”

Too early?

How would he respond to those who might say his company’s own “got cat 6?” ads are premature?

“Maybe from some people’s perspective they are,” he says, “But I think that the people who may be criticizing it are those who don’t have systems yet. And that’s natural.”

He says that in September of 1997, ISO/IEC published a release on Category 6 objectives to allow manufacturers to start development of the required components. “So pretty much that was our license to go ahead and start developing these components.” He says the ads are meant to raise market awareness and get customers asking the right questions.

“We don’t think it’s premature. It’s almost necessary for there to be some imbedded base of Category 6 cabling,” to encourage applications developers to recognize that if they develop equipment and applications that will use this added bandwidth, they will have a market for it.

So what about the customers? What advice would he offer them to ease their concerns?

“The best way to avoid being taken by these false claims is to look for some independent data and to use reputable manufacturers that understand the standards, that maybe participate in them, and are willing to back their claims with some meaningful test criteria, test reports and warranties.”

Category 7 worth discussing

Mr. Siemon also has some interesting views on Category 7 — despite the fact that many others have dismissed it as “that European standard”.

“We were prepared to invest in developing a Category 7 connectivity solution and systems solution, even with the worst market projections we were hearing in terms of it being European-based,” he says. “But now that we have components and systems, we really do see a much wider audience for it.”

He praises the standard’s benefits including: phenomenal bandwidth for less than half the cost of fiber, backward compatibility with all other categories and classes, and the ability to address EMI and security concerns.

All in the family

In addition to his standards work, Mr. Siemon heads up corporate engineering, training, technical support and quality assurance at the Siemon Company.

The company, which was started by his great-grandfather Carl Siemon in 1903, is global in its operations. However, it is essentially a family-run business, headed up by John and his three brothers — Carl (president), Hank (VP of Sales) and C.K. (VP of Reseller Services). In fact, most of the family is involved in some capacity, except for his sister, who runs a tree farm — but that’s another story.

So, with all of these responsibilities, it kind of makes you wonder what he is doing when he isn’t “slacking off?”

He laughingly responds to this jest and reveals that he has a very full life outside of Category 6, and enjoys spending time in such activities as skiing, hockey and cycling with his wife and two young sons.

Hmmm… young sons? Are they perhaps next in line to run the Siemon family business?

“I would certainly be proud if they decided to join the business one day,” he says. “But no one is forcing them in that direction, just as no one forced us. It’s something we all just wanted on our own.”CS

Janine Strom is Editor of Cabling Systems magazine.

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