Taking stock of infrastructure trends

One interesting sign touted "optical wireless." Can "optical copper" be far behind?

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One interesting sign touted "optical wireless." Can "optical copper" be far behind?

The winter trade-show season is a time when I try to sit back for a moment and take stock of what's going on in the cabling industry. This year, I attended the annual BICSI Winter conference in Orlando, and I also made a fly-by visit to ComNet in Washington, D.C.

My first thought is: "What recession?" BICSI had almost 4,000 attendees-another record turnout-and there were well over 200 exhibitors present, including a couple of dozen companies I'd never seen at a BICSI show before.

The atmosphere was anything but gloomy, and the economic prognosis for the year positive. When I asked vendors about last fall's dotcom disaster and the shakeout among providers of Digital Subscriber Line services, the response was almost universal that they hadn't seen a downturn in their businesses.

Don't worry, be happy

BICSI keynoter Todd G. Buchholz, former White House economic advisor and chairman of Victoria Capital, echoed the upbeat mood of the event, claiming that any economic downturn was likely to be a glitch that disappeared by the time you read this.

ComNet also was abuzz with activity, with IT managers sitting through glitzy talks and multimedia presentations to glean product information that would help them manage their networks. My first thought here was also in the form of a question: "Where has all the wireless data communications gone?"

My chief memory from last year's ComNet was of the half-dozen wireless-data product-line launches or enhancements that led Cabling Installation & Maintenance to publish wireless special reports in the May and August issues. But wireless data was not prominent at this year's ComNet. And, where it did appear, names had changed even if products hadn't.

Optical copper, perhaps?

One trend that was evident at ComNet was the arrival in force of optical networking vendors. One interesting sign at the trade show touted "optical wireless." Can "optical copper" be far behind?

You wouldn't expect to see much about residential networking at a higher-level enterprise show like ComNet, but there were a few intriguing announcements here and there. Pinacl, a European network-services company recently acquired by Tyco Electronics, announced Ethernet-to-the-home technology. And Darryl E. Ponder, chairman and CEO of Optical Solutions, even spoke in favor of fiber-to-the-home using passive optical networking (PON) technology.

To me, an important signpost at a networking show like ComNet is the appearance in signage, press releases, and programs of the word "infrastructure." Infrastructure is what we in the cabling industry deal with, as opposed to electronics and equipment and other terms that appear higher up the OSI-model ladder. More so than I remember in previous years, this word was to be found at ComNet, along with many of the company names familiar to me from infrastructure shows like BICSI and Cabling Installation Expo.

The growing presence of infrastructure companies at ComNet does not, in itself, prove the convergence of passive infrastructure with active electronics, but in my view, it is certainly a strong indicator.

Whatever your take on technology trends may be at this point, it seems clear to me that the attendance levels at recent trade shows, along with the obviously high energy level of their attendees, speak to the ongoing vitality of the cabling industry.

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Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.
Associate Publisher/Editor-at-Large

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