Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.
More than a decade ago the Telecommunications Industry Association (tia-- Arlington, VA) began work on the first commercial building wiring standard, eia/tia-568. One purpose of this standard was to establish generic performance specifications for cabling and components, so that Company A`s connectors could be used with Company B`s cables to achieve predictable results. Coming at a time when both telecommunications and data-communications networks were largely proprietary, this first commercial building wiring standard was more than laudable: It was truly visionary.
However, a recent business trend in the cabling industry is undermining the praiseworthy intent of the 568 standard. This trend is the growing tendency of manufacturers of certain components of a structured cabling system to form business alliances or partnerships with manufacturers of other, complementary components. How can this be harmful? How does it run counter to the tia standard?
Let`s look at a hypothetical example, and it will become obvious. Company A still makes connectors, but now it is allied with Company X, which makes cables. Company B also continues to make cables and has established a partnership with another connector maker, Company Y. Companies A and X offer a warranty on their combined cabling system, as do Companies B and Y on theirs.
The 568 standard says that Company A`s Category 5 connectors should work with Company B`s Category 5 cabling to deliver the maximum data rate for a Category 5 system. Companies A and B do not deny that this system performance can be achieved using their connectors and cabling together. But now Company A will only warranty this performance if cable from its business partner is used. And Company B will warranty system performance for its cable only if Company Y`s connectors are used, and not the connectors of Company A, even though the connectors of both manufacturers are made to the same generic specification.
This is a hypothetical example, but a real situation. At a recent bicsi show, a representative of a cabling manufacturer outlined his real-world dilemma. "We recently sold our cable for use in a major project. Later, the customer came back and said the connector manufacturer refused to warranty his products unless they were used with the cable of a business partner."
This is a classic no-win situation. End-users are forced to mix and match components of their structured cabling systems on the basis of who is allied with whom rather than on performance. Both cable and connector manufacturer are forced into negative selling--convincing the end-user not to use someone else`s products rather than promoting the benefits of one`s own.
A win-win solution is possible, however, and it is the same solution offered by the 568 standard for almost a decade now. Let each manufacturer sell its products on the basis of its strengths and benefits, and let each end-user mix and match components on the same basis. If each manufacturer warranties its products to conform with the specifications in the standard, and if the system is properly installed, it should perform to specification, no matter what the various alliances and partnerships of the vendors involved may be.