Oliver warns of cablings impending "dark age"

We may be in the midst of unprecedented growth in the megabillion-dollar telecommunications industry, but Russell B. ("just call me Russ") Oliver, long-time field technician and cabling installer, believes that the coming year may be more dim than bright for installers, designers, and contractors faced with greater pressures not only to keep up with emerging technologies but also to make them run perfectly.

Ron Karjian

We may be in the midst of unprecedented growth in the megabillion-dollar telecommunications industry, but Russell B. ("just call me Russ") Oliver, long-time field technician and cabling installer, believes that the coming year may be more dim than bright for installers, designers, and contractors faced with greater pressures not only to keep up with emerging technologies but also to make them run perfectly.

"The cabling industry is in a year of transition," says Oliver, rcdd and vice president of network systems integration operations at Williams Communications Solutions llc (Marlboro, MA). "Upcoming industry debates over Levels 6 and 7 versus Categories 6 and 7, as well as the implementation of sctp cabling products, not only in North America but also worldwide, will cause a new cabling `dark age.` The rapid acceleration in cabling technology will force end-users to hasten their cabling decisions or rely on their cabling contractor for new developments and new knowledge. This acceleration, combined with manufacturers` aggressively seeking higher ground than their competitors, will initially create confusion among end-users over what cabling equipment is necessary and what is real."

Adding to the problem is "the constant increase in the bandwidth requirements of electronics, such as Gigabit Ethernet, Asynchronous Transfer Mode, and 100-Mbit/sec data transmission. These demands will raise the bar for backbone technology. And as higher-capacity and higher-speed cabling gets deployed to the desktop, more pressure will be placed on designers and installers to implement projects flawlessly."

Oliver says there is precedent for his "dark" short-range forecast. "Back in 1993," he explains, "the cabling industry went through tumultuous changes. I have seen contractors, products, and trends come and go very, very quickly. Category 4 and Category 5 cabling were revolutionizing our industry, and they brought their own fears. The evolution of testing equipment and testing methods had not caught up with the technology of the cable, and there was a period I like to call the `dark ages` where rumor and innuendo combined with fact and fiction to create confusion throughout the industry."

Skies may brighten

Oliver says that standards organizations, including the tia, the Electronic Industries Alliance, and the ieee, "seem to be keeping their finger on the pulse of these new technologies and have been doing a fairly good job of deploying standards and requirements that will meet the needs of these products." Most end-users, he explains, "do not have the time or energy to keep up on all cabling trends and standards and, therefore, are unaware of issues that may cause their systems to be noncompliant. The same holds true for many consultants, who may not specialize in cabling but who have knowledge in data-communications or voice-networking systems. They end up spreading themselves too thin to keep up with changes in eia, tia, or local laws and regulations."

The standards committees, particularly those within the tia, "have improved communications and their standards-writing capabilities," he continues. "Organizations such as bicsi have improved education and design capabilities to better qualify and clarify the roles of the contractor and designer. In addition, bicsi`s registration and certification programs for installers, technicians, and apprentices have promoted education to such a degree that end-users can feel comfortable that the cabling and hardware they purchase will be designed and installed properly. Unfortunately, nationwide licensing and even local licensing of cabling installers lag considerably behind [that of] other trades."

Oliver was one of Comlink`s original employees in 1985, starting his career as a field technician installing both copper and fiber-optic cabling systems throughout the Northeast. As the company grew in size, he rose methodically through the ranks as project manager, installation manager, operations manager, technical-services manager, and eventually a vice president and partner in the firm. Although he says he has worked for two companies--Comlink and Williams Communications--in one respect, he never really left his first company.

In 1995, Williams Communications, which has specialized in telecommunications as well as gas pipelines and energy trading, purchased Comlink to begin "a serious foray into high-performance backbone cabling, network systems integration, and data communications," notes Oliver. He was appointed director, then vice president, of the company`s communications group, which he expects to double in size within two years--yet another indicator of the enormous growth in the cabling industry.

Quelling some fears

But with mergers, acquisitions, and changing technologies comes anxiety among installers, designers, and contractors. One concern in particular that Oliver encounters is the potential obsolescence of copper cabling from the backbone to the desk as speed and bandwidth demands increase. "utp cable will continue to set new limits in its capabilities and will continue to be a viable product for many applications," says Oliver. "Not everyone will need one million bits per second to his desktop." In fact, "I think the industry and the end-user will begin to embrace stp cable in its next go-around. Perhaps the ibm cabling system wasn`t all wrong."

Another concern he encounters is wireless communications. "What I find interesting about wireless systems is how much wire they actually use," notes Oliver. "To deploy wireless systems, higher-speed backbones must be deployed to antennas and concentrators throughout these networks to make the system work."

Oliver is in his second term as bicsi`s Region I director and for five years served as chairman of its Registration Standards and Supervision Committee, which oversees the rcdd and lan specialty programs. In 1995, he received the David Blythe University of Kentucky award for distinguished service to bicsi.

Married, with two young children, Oliver says he enjoys "spending time with my kids," as well as playing softball and researching American history, especially the Civil War. "I also have a great interest in classic cars, especially Ford Mustangs and Shelby models," he enthuses. "I restored a 1966 Mustang convertible from the ground up three years ago."

A 1985 graduate of Worcester State College with a degree in communications technology, Oliver says, "I look back at a particular classroom on a warm May afternoon when a highly respected professor said to me, `Fiber-optics is the place to be, son.` It reminded of the scene from The Graduate, when someone recommended `plastics` to Dustin Hoffman. It was the best career advice I ever got and, thankfully, I got that advice before my career had started."

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