Our 15 minutes of fame-or shame?

Some of you will no doubt recall a commercial aired by Dell Computers during this year's National Football League playoffs. A cabling contractor is meeting with primary-school officials about wiring their school for the Internet

Th Apowell
Th Apowell
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Some of you will no doubt recall a commercial aired by Dell Computers during this year's National Football League playoffs. A cabling contractor is meeting with primary-school officials about wiring their school for the Internet. The school officials look on silently and disapprovingly as our contractor shows himself to be silly (listening to his voice echo in the gym), insensitive ("There may be some backhoe damage to the floors in here") and sleazy ("Can you pay cash?"). In addition, the actor playing the contractor makes him look slovenly and ignorant.

When I try to explain to someone outside the communications industry what Cabling Installation & Maintenance is about, I usually stumble through an awkward description that ends in frustration with something like: "It's about the stuff in the walls over there that lets you hook up your phone and computer."

I feel this frustration because there's no easy way to communicate that putting "the stuff in the walls" is the essential bedrock upon which our networks, both public and enterprise, are based. This infrastructure is installed by intelligent, honest, courteous and neatly dressed technicians. The cabling industry-to me, at least-is a unique blend of rapidly evolving technology, an exciting and prosperous business climate, and a highly skilled construction trade.

Dell Computers and its advertisement have done the cabling industry a major disservice by portraying us in this way. If, as Andy Warhol once claimed, everyone in the world should have one 15-minute interval of fame, our interval in the limelight has cast us as buffoons and scoundrels.

I also have another-and certainly more important-gripe with this nationally-televised commercial. It not only does the cabling industry a disservice, but it also does the educational system one by focusing on a convenient, short-term infrastructure solution to wiring primary-school classrooms to the Internet. The solution benefits Dell Computers by increasing its sales, but it does not necessarily serve the customer's best long-term interest.

We at the magazine have published many case studies of educational facilities-elementary and secondary, undergraduate and postgraduate-and one theme runs through them all. Schools are usually constrained by severe budget limitations, and should be offered infrastructure options that have long potential lives. This is why many of our case studies deal with fiber-optic infrastructures; optical fiber offers the virtually limitless bandwidth that can support networks for decades, and not just months or years.

And, if not optical fiber, what about coaxial cable? This choice of the cable-TV industry, in the form of hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) networks, has much greater throughput than Dell's TrueMobile Wireless Access Point, which is advertised as supporting data rates of up to 11 Mbits/sec for 20 to 50 users.

A major knock on wireless versus wired infrastructure solutions has been lack of bandwidth for data communications. The current wireless maximum, IEEE-802.11b's "fast" 11-Mbit/sec option, is almost two orders of magnitude less than both copper and fiber Gigabit Ethernet wired solutions.

Which solution-wireless or wired-would you choose to serve not only your children, but also your children's children, if you knew that you had to select a single infrastructure that would accommodate their educational needs for the next two to three decades?

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.
Editor-at-Large
arlynp@pennwell.com

Cabling Installation & Maintenance Editorial Mission

Designers, installers and owners of premises and campus communication systems are challenged by changing standards, products and technologies. Keeping pace with these changes requires access to current information from experts in voice, data and video infrastructure solutions. Cabling Installation & Maintenance provides analysis and interpretation of standards and technologies, presentation of design and installation techniques, and selection and use of cable and campus communications systems.

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