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Tomorrow’s Trends

As we usher in 2001, it seems appropriate to look at the networking directions of today and the technology trends shaping the future.

February 1, 2001  

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As I write this article, I am amazed at how quickly we have moved into a New Year — officially the year 2001. I would like to use this opportunity to look back at the evolution of cabling standards in 2000 and look forward to some of the technology and marketing trends that are shaping the future.

Last year saw the passing of Category 5 and the birth of Category 5e cabling with the publication of ANSI/TIA/EIA 568-A-5 (Addendum no. 5) in January 2000. Category 5e cabling is a major improvement over Category 5, the most notable improvement being the tighter specifications on component impedance variations, including cables, cords and connectors.


The next revision of the TIA 568 will only recognize Category 5e cabling as a minimum performance level for new data cabling installations. The complete series of documents comprising the TIA 568-B standard will be published in three parts, as 568-B.1, B.2 and B.3. It is expected that the complete set of documents will be approved for publication at the next meeting of TR 42 in Palm Springs, California from March 5-9, 2001.

The TR-42.7 subcommittee is focusing on completing the work on a Category 6 cabling standard. Category 6 provides an available bandwidth of 200 MHz, or twice as much as Category 5 cabling. The specifications for a channel and a permanent link have been stable for some time. What remains is to complete the detailed specifications for components, taking into account worst case conditions, including the effect of Insertion Loss deviation (ILD), pair balance, backward compatibility and interoperability of connecting hardware. An optimistic date for approval of a Category 6 standard is June 2001; a more likely date is August 2001.


The big questions now are: How do future trends in networking influence the demand and requirements for cabling? Is there a real benefit in installing Category 6 for the future? Should I be thinking about fiber or should I consider wireless? What about Voice over IP (VoIP) eliminating the need for separate voice and data cabling? These questions need careful consideration. I will only comment briefly on the main factors that need to be considered in making a cabling decision for the future.

The available bandwidth and the data-rate capability are important criteria that must be considered. The speed of networking has been increasing tenfold every five to seven years. A data rate of 100 Mbps today will evolve to 1000 Mbps (1 Gbps) five years from now. Certain high-end applications, such as medical imaging, parallel processing and virtual reality may demand even higher data transmission speeds. Category 6 is a good choice, because of the inherent improvement in Signal-to-Noise margin, which translates into better networking performance for today’s applications and more cost-effective implementations for future gigabit networks.

When it comes to a choice between fiber and copper to the desktop, copper tends to be the more favoured preference today, mostly because of the relative economics and the imbedded base of networking equipment that runs over copper. Optical fiber cabling is a good choice for secure networks, for environments with high levels of EMI, or for centralized fiber applications with extended distances up to 300 meters.


Shared wireless networks definitely have a place as an adjunct network, but not as the principal network for most businesses today, primarily because of economic considerations and bandwidth limitations. Wireless networks make sense for such things as connections for laptop computers in conference rooms for collaborative file sharing, document viewing and document editing, and connections for mobile employees for email and Internet access.

The next decade will see many changes in local area networking to accommodate new converged applications that will require higher speeds and a higher quality of service. The cabling infrastructure will need to evolve to keep pace with these demands for increased bandwidth, mobility and versatility.

Cabling experts within the TR 42 engineering committee and related subcommittee are up to the challenge and are working closely with many industry organizations to ensure that the cabling infrastructure provides the broadest support for current and future applications.CS

Paul Kish is Director of IBDN Systems & Standards at NORDX/CDT in Pointe Claire, PQ. He is also Chair of the TR-42 engineering committee.

Disclaimer: The information presented is the author’s view and is not official TIA correspondence.

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