Industry trends revisited

Editor`s Note: At the annual building wiring seminar of the Telecommunications Industry Association, or TIA, (Arlington, VA) last year, moderator Paul Kreager asked each speaker to make a prediction about an industry trend. The predictions were published in the September 1994 issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance as a "Point of View" column --"Industry observers pull out their crystal balls." At this fall`s TIA seminar, the predictions made a year ago were reviewed to see how well the spea

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

Editor`s Note: At the annual building wiring seminar of the Telecommunications Industry Association, or TIA, (Arlington, VA) last year, moderator Paul Kreager asked each speaker to make a prediction about an industry trend. The predictions were published in the September 1994 issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance as a "Point of View" column --"Industry observers pull out their crystal balls." At this fall`s TIA seminar, the predictions made a year ago were reviewed to see how well the speakers had done.

Tom Toher, a senior information developer at IBM`s Network Systems Division in Research Triangle Park, NC, predicted last year that electromagnetic interference and other issues would lead to a resurgence in the market for shielded twisted-pair, or STP, cable, and not just for 150-ohm cable. In the draft international wiring standard in Europe at that time was 100-ohm foil or screened cable, and the TIA`s TR41.8.1 task group was also considering it.

A year ago Toher said, "It will become increasingly popular, especially if the European market tightens its emissions standards. You can invest in a chipset to lower the frequency below 30 megahertz to comply with Federal Communications Commission regulations, or you can fix the cable."

How does Toher feel about those words today? He thinks he did pretty well with his prediction, adding, "I believe all or most of that has come true. Certainly, the European cable standards have gotten tighter," and the U.S.`s draft standard has a 100-ohm shielded solution in it.

Toher thinks this continuing interest in STP is mostly due to electromagnetic interference and radio-frequency interference issues. "There are also rumors that the FCC is going to raise its standards," he adds.

He feels that, at the standards level, the TIA remains committed to STP, and vendors are offering more products today than they did a year ago. "People are just doing what they can to get ready for the future," he concludes.

Unshielded twisted-pair cable

Donna Ballast, a communications analyst for the University of Texas at Austin and author of Cabling Installation & Maintenance`s "Ask Donna" column, thought the 25-pound pulling strength limit on Category 5 unshielded twisted-pair cable would be revised upward to a less conservative number. Today, she says nothing has happened around this issue, but she remains hopeful. "I`m not giving up," she adds. "I`m working on it through the standards committee of the Building Industry Consulting Service International Inc. (Tampa, FL), but it just hasn`t happened yet."

Paul Kreager, principal of KAI Consulting in Pullman, WA, made a cryptic prediction last year. He said he thought the telecommunications industry would significantly change its thinking on near-end crosstalk over the coming year.

Kreager didn`t elaborate at the time, but in the August 1995 issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance, he did, writing about testing channel near-end crosstalk in the magazine`s "Point of View" column. Today, Kreager says he is disappointed that he hasn`t received more response on the issues he raised in that article. "I wonder if people in the industry really understand what`s going on," he says. "There are some deep issues around testing channel near-end crosstalk, and nobody`s addressing them yet." Kreager hopes people will read--or reread--his article and get back to him with comments.

Frank Mara, the principal of CommTran Consulting in Sandwich, MA, predicted that the debate over Category 5 copper wire versus optical fiber would still be unresolved, and that the copper camp would introduce a new performance category--Category 6.

Today Mara thinks that the copper- versus-fiber debate is still very much alive, mostly because of economic issues. He points out that, although the installation premium for fiber may have dropped to 10% to 15% over copper, the cost differential for network electronics remains high. "And where is the economy of running voice over fiber?" he asks.

When it was pointed out that he may have slipped on his other prediction, since there is no Category 6 cable on the horizon, he replied that there is--but instead of being called Category 6, it is just being called extended-performance Category 5 cable.

Optical fiber

Tony Beam, director of fiber systems marketing for AMP Inc. of Harrisburg, PA, engaged Frank Mara in a lively fiber-versus-copper debate at the earlier TIA meeting. In the process, he predicted that there would be several headlines in Cabling Installation & Maintenance over the coming year. One, he said, would read:

"ATM Forum Abandons Category 5, Considers Category 6"

The other would say:

"Category 5 Bogged Down in Testing -- No End in Sight"

If you substitute extended-performance Category 5 cabling for Category 6, Beam believes he was on the mark about asynchronous transfer mode, or ATM. On the Category 5 testing issue, he says he was correct also. Even though Technical Systems Bulletin 67, on field-testing Category 5 cable, has now been approved, back in June--the one-year time limit on Beam`s prediction--the Category 5 testing issue did indeed still appear to be bogged down.

Dispelling some myths

Beam adds, "I think we in the fiber industry have done a tremendous job of educating our customers about the benefits of fiber, and dispelling some of the myths about fiber to the desk. Of course, to be truthful, the fluorinated ethylene propylene shortage has been a blessing in disguise for us. Copper prices continue to rise, while optical fiber remains stable, and opto-electronics continue to decline. I think fiber is being seen as a much more viable alternative."

John Siemon, vice president of engineering for The Siemon Co. in Watertown, CT, also had something to say about fiber. He predicted that, over the long term, singlemode fiber would supplant multimode as the medium of choice in commercial buildings.

Today, he says, "I think it`s beginning to happen." Local area network developers are looking at synchronous optical network technology now, which requires singlemode fiber -- and so does cable television. Siemon definitely sees singlemode going into building backbones, although not so much in the horizontal yet. Hybrid singlemode/multimode cables are also becoming more popular.

"It`s going to happen," he concludes. "It`s just the time frame that`s up in the air."

Predicting industry trends is, admittedly, an entertaining pastime, but does it generate important information? Certainly, the dozen or so market-research firms serving the cabling industry would contend that it does. Where technology is complex and change is rapid, trend predictions give contractors and end users alike a sense of control over the future. The contractor may invest in fiber-optic training, believing that the trend toward fiber to the desk is going to escalate. An end user may opt for an extended-performance Category 5 cabling system in the belief that ATM will be here in the next five years. Both are spending money on the basis of what they believe will happen in the future--and, in spending the money, each is helping to create the future that has been forecast.

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