The twisting, turning road to standardization

It has been stated several times in this magazine as well as on our companion website, cablinginstall.com, that standards are the bedrock ...

Jan 1st, 2012

From the January, 2012 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine

The path to standardized products and systems is rarely straight and short. Even when it is, that can be just the beginning of the journey.

By Patrick McLaughlin

It has been stated several times in this magazine as well as on our companion website, cablinginstall.com, that standards are the bedrock of structured cabling system specification, design and installation. Professionals across the cabling industry’s entire landscape—product manufacturers, system designers, installers, and managers of cabling systems within end-user organizations—take pride in the standards-based systems you collectively create. Generally, the standards governing these systems in North America are produced by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA; www.tiaonline.org) and those governing cabling systems in many other parts of the world are produced by the International Organization for Standardization in concert with the International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/IEC; www.iso.org; www.iec.ch).

Characterizing the manner in which these standards get produced might be best accomplished by borrowing from the famous quote sometimes attributed to German aristocrat Otto von Bismarck: “Laws are like sausages; it is best not to see them being made.” The process by which our industry’s standards are created is consensus-based; most often that means consensus among competing product and system manufacturers, which can require time and be fraught with conflicting objectives. In the end, the specifications produced have consistently provided an effective framework for the deployment of structured cabling systems.

The following three articles provide insight into various stages of the standards-creation process, including a look at the realities of verifying standards-based performance in the field.

The first article in our Special Report is authored by JDSU’s Assaji Aluwihare, who brings us up to date on the activities that have taken place within the TIA’s TR-42.7 Committee to create specifications for the transmission of 40-Gbit/sec speeds over twisted-pair cabling infrastructure. Aluwihare provides a good summary of the drivers that have led TR-42.7 to pursue this effort and also pays some specific attention to an area of such standardization that is of specific concern to JDSU—the testing of such high-performance cabling systems.

As for the goings-on within TR-42.7 to develop these specifications, I was not surprised to learn that there is likely to be some significant debate within the group about the cabling performance level (i.e. Category 6A, Category 7/7A) that can support as much as 40-Gbit/sec data rates. That level of “sausage making” will be carried out within standards meetings, but also very likely in media outlets such as this one. We at Cabling Installation & Maintenance intend to track the progress of this TIA standard effort, and in doing so we will strive to provide information from both, or all, technical standpoints.

The Special Report’s second article covers a topic that currently is in the midst of being standardized within the TIA—bend-insensitive multimode fiber (BIMMF). It was a full year ago when we published side-by-side articles that took sharply different views on the practicalities of using BIMMF. (See “Compatibility issues with bend-insensitive and standard multimode” and “The facts about bend-insensitive multimode fibers,” January 2011.) Throughout 2011, the principals involved in the debate and discussion continued their information campaigns.

Several months ago I was asked if I would publish an article authored by Corning Optical Fiber’s Jeff Englebert on the topic. I agreed to, for several reasons. First, I have engaged in conversations with individuals who hold different technical viewpoints on the topic (and evidently hold them quite passionately). In every case I have interpreted an expressed view as being informed, genuine and based on sound technical fundamentals. In other words, I’ve had my guard up against being “whitewashed” by an argument and so far, believe that the information we’ve provided to you serves to be helpful rather than problematic. So Englebert’s article is presented to you this month as another “club in your bag” to use when and if applicable, as you make decisions about the use of fiber-optic cabling.

The second reason I agreed to publish the article is that I believe it is an opportunity to provide a peek through the curtains at some of the discussion that takes place as standards groups develop specifications. Currently, engineering and technical professionals with vastly opposing views on BIMMF are participating in the effort to standardize the fiber type. I used the word “participating” in the previous sentence because to say they are “cooperating” might be assuming too much. Given the tenor of Englebert’s article, I’d say the discussions within this particular standards-making group must be quite interesting.

The final article in our Special Report addresses the complicated task of ensuring both standard compliance and performance compliance of twisted-pair copper patch cords. Authored by comCables’ Andy Work and Tom McAllister, the in-depth article details the ugly realities of some of the patch cords being sold into the market today. Its tales of woe include the negative effects of inferior manufacturing on patch cord performance. The article includes photos of the proverbial good, bad and ugly patch cords that are easily accessible from a number of outlets.

Work and McAllister’s article also describes the unrealistic testing process by which some patch cords slip through and are recognized as standard-compliant, even though the cord may be woefully inadequate for the job. It advises of the means now available to ensure that the cord, as a single component of a larger structured cabling system, is up to the task.

As a punctuation mark on the article and the entire Special Report, the space typically reserved four our Cabling Tip provides hands-on instruction for using the test equipment that can verify a cord’s performance level.

As always, our intention with this Special Report is to provide you with information that can help you either now or sometime in the future when you are making decisions about the design, installation and management of cabling systems. We hope that it helps to clear rather than clutter your contemplation of the most appropriate options for you and your customers.

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

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