Making a living by installing home-run cabling systems could one day be small potatoes.
There are two famous literary phrases that are so overused in every form of media that I now despise seeing either one of them. First is "To be or not to be, that is the question," from Shakespeare's Hamlet. People everywhere take this phrase and mangle it just a little bit to suit their own focus. Even here in the cabling industry, I'm sure somewhere along the line somebody has stated, "To run fiber to the desk or not to run fiber to the desk, that is the question." Hopefully, I was not the person who made this statement, seeing as how I am ranting and raving about the phrase.
The other overused literary phrase is, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," from the Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities. It is not nearly as badly abused as "to be or not to be," but lately, it has popped up with too much frequency.
For a brief second, I was tempted to use that "best of times, worst of times" line upon my return from the most recent BICSI conference and exhibition, held in late January. Why was I tempted? First, let's understate the obvious. These are among the worst economic times that many in our industry have seen. So, why would I even think about saying that we are also in "the best" of times? Realistically, I wouldn't. Remember, I said I was only tempted for a second. But some of what I saw at BICSI defied the notion that our industry is at its lowest point.
A lot of the buzz around the conference concerned the introduction of a product called the NJ100 Network Jack. It looks pretty much like a standard wall outlet, with four ports. But it includes switching technology that allows users to gain four separate network connections, one via each port, over a single unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cable. Details of the product are included in the Cabling Product News supplement that came with this issue of the magazine.
During and then soon after the show, several vendors made noise about their "tiny TR" or "mini TR" product lines. This is a topic that follows a familiar path, in which technological development and professional ingenuity are ahead of industry standardization. Currently, no user or system designer can point to a TIA standard when specifying a system that includes "tiny TRs." But soon they will be able to do so. Like open-office cabling and centralized optical-fiber cabling before it, "tiny TR" cabling will go from being an obscure, alternative design method to one that gains mainstream acceptance.
Also, evidence mounts that professionals in this industry should pay attention to industrial settings as potential clients for cabling products and services. Recent product introductions lend credence to the forecast that this market segment will grow rapidly in the next few years. Currently accounting for just a tiny slice of the cabling market, industrial environments are poised to make up a significantly larger chunk of the market in years ahead.
Those three coincidental happenings-the introduction of a product that allows four network connections via one UTP cable, the snowballing effect of the "tiny TR" concept, and the impending emergence of industrial cabling as a market segment in which business grows-remind me not of A Tale of Two Cities, but of another Dickens novel: Great Expectations. But not because of the obvious optimism in the title. What I remember about Great Expectations is that the main character found out somewhere along the line that his substantial inheritance came not from the wealthy woman he always assumed it had, but from a source from whom he least expected it.
For years, many professionals in this industry have made a living by designing or installing home-run cabling systems, which included four or more UTP cables to every workstation, inside commercial office buildings. On several fronts, it looks like those dynamics are changing. Staying on top of these changes, and being able to better serve your customers as a result of them, is now a survival tool. To step outside your comfort zone, or not to step outside your comfort zone, that is the... oops, caught myself.
Patrick McLaughlin is Chief Editor of Cabling Installation & Maintenance.