EDITORIAL: Wireless: the fifth medium

In the cabling industry, we are accustomed to thinking in terms of four cabling media: coaxial cable, unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cable, shielded or screened twisted-pair (STP/ScTP), and optical fiber.

Th Arlyn
Th Arlyn
Click here to enlarge image

In the cabling industry, we are accustomed to thinking in terms of four cabling media: coaxial cable, unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cable, shielded or screened twisted-pair (STP/ScTP), and optical fiber. These are the media covered by the industry's cabling standard, EIA/TIA-568 and its successors. Our reader research at Cabling Installation & Maintenance also suggests that these are the media that cabling contractors install, and for the most part, they are the infrastructure choices evaluated by network and cable-plant managers.

In most discussions where the subject of wireless comes up, I have observed that one of two approaches is taken. One approach is to speak of "wireline/wireless," implying that they are polar opposites. The other approach is simply to ignore wireless altogether-either dismissing it because of its current technical limitations or refusing to talk about it because the technology is foreign to the cabling industry.

I believe both of these approaches to wireless are short-sighted and that we in the cabling industry are potentially reducing our chances for future success by either dismissing the technology or treating it as something alien to us. Wireless is, in fact, the fifth cabling medium and should join coaxial, twisted-pair, and fiber-optic technologies in all of our considerations.

As critics have pointed out, wireless has some drawbacks. Transmission bandwidth is currently low compared to wire-based media, and there are issues of spectrum allocation, broadcast range, and interference as well. However, manufacturers of wireless products are aggressively addressing these issues, and they are making rapid and significant progress.

Perhaps more important, wireless offers a unique advantage that cannot be matched by wireline technologies: mobility. To date, wireless has been largely limited to niche applications such as warehousing and emergency services, where mobility has been an absolute requirement. However, as each of us in the general business community becomes more dependent on wireless technologies such as cellular phones, personal pagers, and palmtop computers, we will begin to take mobility for granted and will come to expect it in our business voice and data communications.

The advantages of wireless technology in today's business environment are obvious. Imagine not being chained to a desk in an office for one's business communications. And think how much easier it would be to make moves, adds, and changes in an open-office setting if partitions and modular furniture did not have to be rewired.

What is required is simple to state, although perhaps not so easy to achieve. First, we in the cabling industry need to change our mindset. We must stop viewing wireless as a separate technology, as part of a different industry. Once we have made this mental adjustment, several other, more-concrete adjustments must be made:

  • Standards, such as those of the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA-Arlington, VA), must be expanded to include wireless as a medium in commercial and residential wiring infrastructures.
  • Professional and training organizations such as BICSI (Tampa, FL) must add wireless to both their agendas and their curricula. BICSI, for instance, should consider a wireless specialization, just as it has added local-area-network (LAN) and outside-plant (OSP) specializations.
  • Trade publications and information providers such as Cabling Installation & Maintenance must do a better job of providing news coverage and technical analysis of this emerging technology as it impacts the existing cabling industry.
  • Manufacturers and distributors of wireline cabling and components must strive to understand and embrace this technology (as, indeed, some of the more far-sighted have already done).

We at Cabling Installation & Maintenance are taking a first step toward fulfilling the third point mentioned above. We are pleased to welcome to our magazine group-already consisting of Cabling Installation & Maintenance, Cabling Product News, OSP Engineering & Construction, and Cabling Installation & Maintenance Europe-our sister publication, Wireless Integration.

Beginning its fifth year of publication, Wireless Integration focuses on the integration of wireless technology into wireline infrastructures in the enterprise. The addition of this publication to our magazine group will allow us to pass on to you an increased understanding and expanded awareness of wireless as the fifth medium in today's cabling industry.

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.
Group Editorial Director

More in Home