"When end-users finally understand the concept of `true cabling utility` for their network infrastructure, Category 5 utp cabling will and should be dead," says Pete D. Lockhart, director of structured cabling technology at Anixter Inc. (Skokie, IL) and the keystone of the company`s levels specification program. "Category 5 is only a 2-pair technology and is insufficient for the new 4-pair encoding schemes." But for cabling installers, designers, and contractors concerned with whether their currently installed Category 5 cabling can handle high speeds and bandwidth, Lockhart believes "a portion of the current installed base was manufactured well enough to be compliant with these requirements and should be able to support `Gigabit-Whatever,` assuming the connectivity also is up-to-speed."
Lockhart joined Anixter 10 years ago as data-cable product manager, after 16 years in several engineering positions with Anaconda-Ericsson`s power-cable and telecommunications divisions, including senior manager of capital planning for both fiber-optic and copper cabling. "Upon my arrival at Anixter," says Lockhart, "my first project was to assist the telecommunications group in developing the original Levels 1-2-3 program, which covered pots [plain old telephone service] to 10Base-T cables."
Creating a level playing field
One year later, he helped develop the Level 4 cable concept with Lucent Technologies (then at&t) and Belden Wire & Cable Co. and then added a comparable Level 4 to Anixter`s program. In 1991, with the development of twisted-pair/physical media-dependent (tp-pmd) cabling by the American National Standards Institute, Lockhart launched Level 5, which included similar cabling proposals from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and the International Organization for Standardization. Level 6, "whose performance specifications are what Category 5 should have been," says Lockhart, "was created when our customers needed assurance worldwide that the new 4-pair encoding techniques would work on Category 5-plus cables." He created Level 7 to cover cabling categories and equipment on the immediate horizon.
The Anixter levels specification program has significantly impacted the industry over the last several years--for better or worse. To clear up any confusion, the company`s various levels are not the same as the category numbers assigned to cable by the tia. Lockhart emphasizes that "the Anixter levels program is essentially a purchasing document. We created these specifications as well as the newer connectivity and channel specifications to ensure that products in our inventory globally perform the same electrically, wherever they may be sold."
Working closely with the tia over the past 10 years leads Lockhart to observe, "The truly scary thing is that the 4 years between the time the original eia/tia-568 cabling standard was approved and tia/eia-568a was okayed, there was no specification at all for defining what a Category 5 cable should look like. There was only tsb-36 for utp cables, which is not a standard or a specification at all, but only a hint of a standard. So, from 1991 to 1995, there were probably 4 billion feet of 4-pair cable installed to no standard whatsoever!"
Plenty of growing pains
Lockhart earned a bachelor`s degree in industrial engineering from Purdue University in 1970. He likes to call himself a "computer geek" since he built his first computer in 1975 and used the first "real PC" made by Ohio Scientific in 1977. While at Anaconda-Ericsson in the mid-1980s, Lockhart was involved in the development of ibm cables as well as high-speed shielded 100-ohm screened twisted-pair (sctp) products.
Married, with one daughter, Lockhart relaxes with outdoor activities such as golf, fishing, canoeing, and camping when he can tear himself away from his computer. He has authored several articles and periodically lectures at seminars about future premises-cabling demands.
"As network requirements approach 1000 Mbits/sec," he explains, "all of the design, component, and installation flaws will be self-evident. You can`t test in the performance. The components either have it or they don`t! We`ll have to start paying attention to the true balance of the total installed channel, including the patch cable assemblies. True characteristic impedance must be maintained end-to-end. The more the encoding schemes become truly broadband-like, the more utp cable must act like coaxial cable, offering dead-smooth impedance with very low return loss."
The issue of true end-to-end connectivity performance is just another chapter in his 26 years of developing and marketing cabling solutions. Says Lockhart, "I have been very lucky to work for companies and supervisors that encouraged innovation and allowed free, out-of-the-box thinking because it was the right thing to do to advance the industry and its objectives."