For the past nine years, I have observed the cabling industry, most often from the comfort of my desk but also frequently from jobsites, contractor and end-user corporate offices, conferences, and trade shows. In that time, I have observed what I think can best be described as a distinct maturation of the industry, not only from a technological standpoint, but also from a business and commerce perspective.
And much like an individual who goes through the emotional pangs and physical changes of growing up, our industry has had its share of experiences analogous to acne, leaving the nest, and calling home for money before standing where it is today.
One indication that our industry has matured is it has gone through cyclical repetitions. Many who are staying tuned to 10GBase-T and Augmented Category 6 specification development can’t help but feel that you have been here before. You have. The Category classification of twisted-pair copper cabling systems probably best represents the cyclical course our industry has followed. But the cycle goes beyond the mere development of technology. It has repeated itself enough times that the industry’s vendors can pretty accurately predict the uptake progression for these new systems after standardization, based on the technology’s acceptance before standardization. In the sometimes-bumpy ride that has seen protocols lead infrastructure and vice versa, defined trends have emerged and held up.
The analogy of individual to industry also applies when we reflect on emerging from hardship. I see our industry’s survival of, and emergence from, the 2001 downfall as a crucial happening. Many of us know people who left the industry altogether in the aftermath, and we’ll never work with them again. A cabling contractor told me as the industry was scraping bottom in 2002, “For years, I wondered what I would do if the phone stopped ringing. Now I know.” He and his company would have to grow up quickly. So would the entire industry. And it has.
Finally, a mature person spreads his or her own wings, venturing into the world either to establish a place in it or to conquer it. That’s the crossroads our industry now faces.
Structured cabling for voice and data transmission is an essential building system. It has established its place in that world. Now it appears intent on conquering, and one needs to look no further than this issue of this magazine for examples. We have an article (page 12) on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) that looks forward to all of a building’s communications systems converging through IP and running over a single structured cabling system. On page 32, you can read an article from a supplier of IP-based video equipment, practically imploring cabling contractors to bring their knowledge and experience to the task of installing IP video systems.
While many relish the thought of such opportunity, I reflect on one of the industry’s primary causes for concern that surfaced in the late 1990s. Cabling contractors faced the ominous presence of licensed electricians who saw communications-cabling projects as a natural extension of their business. In some cases, legislative proposals called for an electrician’s license as a mandatory prerequisite for communications-cabling projects. Our industry bristled at what it regarded as industrial imperialism. In short, the cabling industry’s stance was that the criterion by which an organization should be selected to carry out a cabling job was competence-not the possession of a certain designation, certification, or license; not experience in some other discipline or technology; and not a notion of manifest destiny.
Today, I hope and trust that as members of our industry expand their business into areas of work historically conducted by other trades, they will continue to embrace the idea that competence should decide who gets what business-not the possession of a certain designation, certification, or license; not experience in some other discipline or technology; and not a notion of manifest destiny.
While our industry has grown and, in my opinion, matured a great deal to this point, the idea that one must sow before reaping is ageless.