Fiber versus copper, revisited

At this winter`s annual meeting of BICSI (Tampa, FL), I saw the term for the first time in print--Category 6. It was barely two years ago that I was reporting the frustration of network managers who had installed Category 4 cabling, only to have it superseded by Category 5. "Would Category 6 come along to outmode their Category 5 cabling plants?" they asked. The copper cabling industry assured them that Category 5 performance to 100 megahertz should be adequate to cover their networking needs fo

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

Executive Editor

arlynp@pennwell.com

At this winter`s annual meeting of BICSI (Tampa, FL), I saw the term for the first time in print--Category 6. It was barely two years ago that I was reporting the frustration of network managers who had installed Category 4 cabling, only to have it superseded by Category 5. "Would Category 6 come along to outmode their Category 5 cabling plants?" they asked. The copper cabling industry assured them that Category 5 performance to 100 megahertz should be adequate to cover their networking needs for decades to come.

Listening to the debate at BICSI on whether there should be a Category 6 covering unshielded twisted-pair copper cabling out to 300 megahertz, I remembered this promise, and wondered how it could be forgotten so soon. The push for Category 6, apparently, is coming from European cable manufacturers; the United States telecommunications standards community has no plans to pursue the matter unless asked to do so by the industry at large. But can that request be long in coming?

Category 6 could be a blessing to the copper cabling industry. Category 5 has been selling vigorously for several years; from a marketing standpoint, it would be good strategy to have the next generation of products waiting in the wings when Category 5 sales start to tail off. It would be good business for cabling installers, too. There would be years of work in upgrading obsolete Category 5 cabling plants.

The group that it would not be good for is the end users, who were assured a 10- to 15-year lifespan for their Category 5 cabling plants. It seems to me that it`s time to stop pushing the envelope on copper. Category 6, we were told at BICSI, will cost 50% to 100% more than Category 5 and will involve delving into even more arcane electrical characteristics of copper cabling than the near-end crosstalk and attenuation-to-crosstalk ratio that we are now forced to understand.

Let`s develop Category 5 to the fullest, and then let`s switch to optical fiber. If we need a transitional medium, perhaps Bob Faber, director of corporate training for The Siemon Co. (Watertown, CT), said it best at BICSI. "Maybe we already have a Category 6," he said, rattling off the characteristics proposed for that level. "It`s called IBM Type 1A cable."

That`s what I hope will happen. It`s what I think would be best for the customers that manufacturers and installers serve. Is it what I believe will happen? Check back with me two years from now, and remember you read it first here--Category 7.

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