WideBand networking gives cable manufacturers chance to perform

Bill Slater is the business development manager for Southwire Cyber Technologies Inc., a division of Southwire Co. (Carrollton, GA).

Bill Slater,

Southwire Cyber Technologies Inc.

Bill Slater is the business development manager for Southwire Cyber Technologies Inc., a division of Southwire Co. (Carrollton, GA).

For the past several years, wire and cable manufacturers have been trying to outperform one another in making data cable that exceeds industry standards. Like a field of Olympic athletes in training, these manufacturers have been preparing and honing their product performance. We`ve gone from "Mega-this" and "Giga-that" to "DataSuper350" and "LANtastic 2001," in a frantic race to see who can make the boldest claims.

Can you imagine a world in which the Olympic athletes, instead of running a race, merely checked in with the Olympic Committee and had their body fat percentage tested, their thigh muscles measured, and their lung capacities compared? Taking into account these factors, plus their ACR (active cardiac rate) and PS-NEXT (pushup and sit-up ninety-set exercise time), the committee could award gold, silver, and bronze metals. Silly, you say? It`s not far off from what we do in the cabling business, where laboratory testing of cable is used to try to determine which cable will be awarded approved status and be installed in projects to futureproof them for not-yet-invented applications.

While the industry was mired in debate concerning what the Gigabit Ethernet standard would look like over copper, WideBand Corp. (Gallatin, MO) delivered a gigabit-networking option to the market more than two years ago. In fact, WideBand local area networks (LANs) have been installed in a number of universities where cutting-edge high-speed applications are being used over Category 5, providing an environment for well-made data cable to show its stuff right now in the market. The WideBand system operates at a frequency of 167 megahertz, whereas protocols such as 155-megabit-per-second Asynchronous Transfer Mode operate at 77 MHz.

At last fall`s BICSI conference in Las Vegas, the president of WideBand Corp., Roger Billings, introduced his corporation`s networking option. He explained that among WideBand`s many benefits are its gigabit speed and elimination of data collisions. To maintain compatibility with the existing LAN structures within a company, WideBand looks like Ethernet to the network. But instead of providing a means for recovering from data-pocket collisions as Ethernet does, WideBand eliminates data collisions altogether.

At that conference, Billings also revealed that he had tested the system with more than 50 different Category 5 cable samples from a variety of manufacturers. He listed those manufacturers in rank order, much to the dismay of some big-name cable companies who performed less spectacularly than others. Some of these players were even outperformed by a newcomer to the data-cable business.

When that ranking was questioned and haggled over on the basis of the statistical sample and number of data points for each company, WideBand simply published a pass/fail certification for the cables. This certification isn`t a matter of calculating a cable`s attenuation-to-crosstalk ratio and theoretically determining whether the cable can operate at a given frequency. This is an actual system test, an application to which you can hook up cable and measure bit-error rates.

Since the operating frequency limit of the industry standard--TIA/EIA-568A--is 100 MHz, and the WideBand gigabit-networking system exceeds that at 167 MHz, it is important to make sure the cable used is WideBand-certified. Just being a borderline Category 5 won`t get you into this race for additional data speed. For a list of certified cables, check out www.wide band.com. Plus, you`ll find the WideBand certification logo on some cable manufacturers` packages.

As cable prices vary widely and the distinctions between one manufacturer`s Category 5 and another`s Enhanced Category 5 blur, it is difficult for the average contractor or end user to feel comfortable making a choice between brands. The WideBand certification, like ETL and UL verifications to published standards, provides the vote of confidence for a cable`s performance. In an ever-increasing field of Category 5 manufacturers where cable performance varies widely, you really need a good scorecard to tell the players apart.

Note: Bill Slater has no financial interest in WideBand Corp. He serves on the WideBand Gigabit Networking Alliance (WGNA) in an unpaid committee role. Southwire is one of the founding members of WGNA, the purpose of which is to promote the development of an open standard for WideBand gigabit-networking technology.

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