Standardizing the arteries of communications

In the information age, telecommunications and data communications are the lifeblood that fuels business growth. Carrying this vital flow of information are complex networks of cable "arteries" that have become as essential to organizations as the signals they carry. However, as organizations grow and expand into new regions, these cabling products may differ from location to location because of differences in regional standards.

Don Nicholson

Intertek Testing Services

ETL SEMKO

Americas Div.

In the information age, telecommunications and data communications are the lifeblood that fuels business growth. Carrying this vital flow of information are complex networks of cable "arteries" that have become as essential to organizations as the signals they carry. However, as organizations grow and expand into new regions, these cabling products may differ from location to location because of differences in regional standards.

Differences between infrastructures can lead to interconnectivity and interoperability issues, which, in turn, can result in business downtime and losses in end-user productivity. Because of this risk, business is driving the demand for global standards harmonization for cabling products. To provide end users with assurance of performance continuity, seamless transmissions, and compliance with safety standards--regardless of the business location--standards-development organizations, industry leaders, testing and certification agencies, and globally minded businesses are pushing to establish uniform, global safety and performance standards.

Global harmonization

Currently, North America and Europe are leading the way toward global standards, and national standards are being "harmonized" to address the requirements of all countries involved. Playing a vital role in this process are standards-development organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Telecommunications Industry Association/ Electronic Industries Alliance (tia/ eia), the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission (iso/iec), and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (cenelec). Organizations throughout the world rely on standards that assist manufacturers in the development of quality products. Without these standards, voice and data communications between users and organizations would be fragmented. Despite the industry`s current drive, however, problems still arise because of regional differences between standards. Global harmonization is necessary for truly seamless communications. To achieve such harmonization, the world`s standards-development organizations must work together as they do in writing design and test specifications for cabling infrastructure and data-transmission rates. Currently, North America`s TIA/EIA and Europe`s iso/iec have formed joint committees that keep each other informed of developments within their respective organizations and share technical resources, with the objective of harmonizing performance standards between North America and Europe.

However, not all standards-development organizations work side by side. When it comes to safety testing of cables, there are significant differences between fire testing in North America, Europe, and the rest of the world. Organizations such as the NFPA in North America and iso/iec and cenelec in Europe need to start collaborating on harmonized safety standards to provide manufacturers with the specifications needed to develop worldwide safety-testing requirements for cabling products.

How harmonization affects users

Global harmonization of performance and safety standards is beneficial not only for manufacturers, but also for end users. Harmonized standards help influence the development of quality and high-performance cabling products and allow interconnectivity and interoperability between different man-ufacturers` networking components worldwide. With the establishment of harmonized standards, MIS and IT directors can reduce their purchasing risks when tasked with building an organization`s worldwide cabling infrastructure. With higher- quality standardized products available, these professionals can feel confident they are creating a reliable infrastructure that can accommodate end users` needs for seamless, secure, and uninterrupted communications, while also providing a migration path to emerging technologies.

Although the cabling infrastructure constitutes only 10% of a typical organization`s network investment, it is the cause of many network problems. Fortunately, globally standardized cabling infrastructures are now becoming a reality. With a reliable infrastructure in place, built using globally standardized cabling products, MIS and IT directors can focus their efforts on maintenance of the other 90% of their investment, such as networking equipment, connecting hardware devices, and software applications, and on providing end users with better service and performance.

Working with standards-development organizations, independent third-party laboratories ensure the benefits of global standards harmonization are passed on to the end user. These laboratories test and certify cabling products and provide manufacturers with "verified" and "listed" product performance and safety marks such as Intertek Testing Service`s ETL mark. These marks of independent testing laboratories are the market access keys for their products and signify to end users that the products comply with safety standards, meet specific performance requirements, and are compatible with their current network.

Don Nicholson is global industry manager for cabling products, Intertek Testing Services, etl semko, Americas Div. (Cortland, NY). He can be contacted at (607) 758-6375 or by e-mail at dnicholson@itsqs.com.

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