Shariff is one of Category 5s fathers

"We need a better cable," was the rallying cry in Park City, UT, where the tia`s TR-41.8.1 working group met on a June day back in 1991. At the time, Masood A. Shariff was asked to coordinate the group`s discussions and recommendations on the "better cable" that eventually would become today`s omnipresent Category 5 utp premises cable--"the worldwide medium of choice," according to Shariff.

Jul 1st, 1998

Ron Karjian

"We need a better cable," was the rallying cry in Park City, UT, where the tia`s TR-41.8.1 working group met on a June day back in 1991. At the time, Masood A. Shariff was asked to coordinate the group`s discussions and recommendations on the "better cable" that eventually would become today`s omnipresent Category 5 utp premises cable--"the worldwide medium of choice," according to Shariff.

Now, seven years later, "this reasonably priced, easy-to-install medium continues to surpass the predictions of most media analysts and has become a keystone in the success of networked computing," says Shariff, a distinguished member of technical staff at Lucent Technologies` Bell Laboratories (Middletown, NJ). He also co-chairs the TR-41.8.1 working group, which developed and is rewriting the tia/eia-568a standard.

"Like many other runaway successful concepts, the development of Category 5 has many interesting stories," he relates, reflecting on the milestone year 1991. "After intense conference calls, e-mails, and discussions, the draft Category 5 cable specifications were presented during the September 1991 TR-41.8.1 meeting in Ottawa, ON, Canada. There was a lot of discussion, and several suggestions were made. After dinner, Paul Kish, Luc Adriaenssens, and I met in Paul`s room, and we used his personal laptop computer to make the final changes and generate the revised version of the Category 5 draft specifications early into the next morning."

Shariff, Kish, and Adriaenssens presented the new draft specifications later that same morning at the TR-41.8.1 meeting, and the document was unanimously approved for publication. "Having been through the ups and downs of those last few months before approval," Shariff recalls, "that was the most surprising and poignant moment in my standards career. The opposition to Category 5 seemed universal back in 1991, from the shielded twisted-pair [stp] cable manufacturers, from the fiber-optic cable folks, and from the utp manufacturers that did not have Category 5 cable. But once the time for a powerful idea has come, it can`t be stopped. This realization, together with working feverishly overnight to accommodate most concerns from the working group, left the tia committee no choice but to approve the document."

As a systems engineer for Bell Labs, Shariff has been instrumental in the development of the systimax Structured Cabling System. He earned a master`s degree in computer science at the University of Delaware and a bachelor of technology degree at the Indian Institute of Technology, and he is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (ieee--New York City). Shariff worked as a project manager in the Middle East and as a systems programmer in Canada on the first cellular phone system in North America, the Aurora 400, before joining Bell Labs.

Exceeding expectations

Shariff predicts that the cabling industry "will continue to excel in the next five years. Category 6 will become the new popular medium and dominate horizontal applications for the next five to ten years. Fiber-optic cabling will continue to grow as well, with increased use in the horizontal and continued dominance in the backbone."

He also has a bright outlook for what he calls "the home networks of tomorrow," but this prediction also carries a warning. Residential cabling, he says, will be "driven by increased use of the Internet and other subscriber services and will experience tremendous growth. But the danger here is that various cabling companies and contractors involved in building home networks will not have compatible solutions, missing a huge opportunity to create the same level of success that commercial cabling and local area network applications enjoy in the market today. It`s essential that cabling standards, applications standards, and service providers all work together to create a common platform on which to build these home networks."

Shariff represents Lucent on the tia/eia TR-41 umbrella group for telecommunications equipment requirements. He chairs the tia utp Systems Task Group responsible for tsb-67, which specifies transmission performance requirements for utp cabling links, and for tia PN-3727, which covers future utp development. He also is an editor of the bicsi Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual (tdmm).

"At times, the changes, innovative ideas, new developments, solutions, and standards happen so fast that it feels like we are in the midst of a revolution in technology," Shariff says. "We have to remember to deliver on promises, protect customer investments, and control the marketing hype so customers can make informed decisions in a stable environment. I want to help in any way I can to promote the industry and its people, products, and solutions."

All of which leaves him very little time for some of his favorite recreational activities, such as tennis, volleyball, and basketball as well as hiking, nature walks, and watching history and science programs on TV. "The cabling industry has become an important element in all aspects of my work and personal life," says Shariff, who has a daughter in college and two sons attending High Technology High School in Middletown, NJ. "Some of my best friends are from the cabling industry. This makes travel to standards meetings, trade shows, and conferences more interesting, productive, and fun."

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