Are open cabling systems starting to close?

If a single guiding principle for the engineering and design of cabling systems exists, it must be "open systems." This principle is so important that the Telecommunications Industry Association`s (tia-- Arlington, VA) TR-41.8.1 Working Group on Commercial and Industrial Building Cabling specifically addresses it in its scope statement, part of which says, "the telecommunications cabling specified is intended as an open system designed to support a wide variety of voice, data, video, and other l

Mar 1st, 1998

Michael H. Mayfield, Remee Products Corp.

If a single guiding principle for the engineering and design of cabling systems exists, it must be "open systems." This principle is so important that the Telecommunications Industry Association`s (tia-- Arlington, VA) TR-41.8.1 Working Group on Commercial and Industrial Building Cabling specifically addresses it in its scope statement, part of which says, "the telecommunications cabling specified is intended as an open system designed to support a wide variety of voice, data, video, and other low-voltage, power-limited applications."

Stated simply, an open Category 5 cabling system delivers required performance, independent of vendor.

Recently, a disturbing trend has developed. Some manufacturers of cable and connectors claim that only components from their company, or from "partner" companies, can be trusted to meet the performance and long-term reliability needs of end-users. They claim that each component in whatever system they are promoting has been specifically engineered to match and perform in combination with every other component. Manufacturers that produce and promote these systems infer that end-users gain a performance advantage when certain components are installed as a complete system whether from a single company or from a list of approved vendors. This practice is a leap backwards for the industry, and it is contrary to the intent of the tia specifications for cabling systems.

The "gotcha" days

Most of us can recall the days when computers and networking systems were unique and proprietary technologies. The original equipment manufacturer (oem) was king. To implement new technology and reap the benefits of the oncoming Information Age, end-users had little choice but to standardize on a given set of products and design specifications that were unique to a particular manufacturer. These were the "gotcha" standards. They were "closed" because the system would operate only with hardware and software from a single vendor or product family, and "gotcha" because, once locked in, the end-user was essentially forced to perpetuate the installed base.

Users resented being the private hunting ground of some oems or service providers and insisted on freedom to choose from more product and technology options in a competitive environment. Something had to give.

Proprietary systems gave way to open systems and industry standards when oems realized that unprecedented market growth and new opportunities would be stimulated by more, not less, competition. A bigger market built on industry standards would mean more long-term profitability than a smaller market built on proprietary solutions. In other words, competition was good.

Lure in and lock in

Unfortunately, some cable and connector manufacturers, threatened by a highly competitive open-systems environment, are attempting to lure in users to a cradle-to-grave cabling system. This approach has several caveats for end-users, cabling system designers, and installers.

- System guarantees may superficially offer assurances of performance. However, read the fine print and you will likely find that the use of any non-approved component, such as a patch cord or connector, will nullify the guarantee on the entire system.

- The fallacy that some components are specifically engineered to perform better with certain other components from other manufacturers should tip you off. Does anyone believe that a cable manufacturer would produce a unique cable, part number, and inventory to be used only with a matching connector from another vendor?

- Cabling systems designed from a matched set of components almost always result in a higher price. Shop around for long-term cost savings.

One thing that differentiates cable manufacturers is whether or not they are truly committed to open systems and to the freedom to choose a mix of cable, connectors, and other components. Remee has several new programs designed to make the broadest range of standards-compliant products available to users and cabling contractors. Our Certified lan Cabling Professional program for cabling contractors provides professional training and certification for Category 5 cabling systems and Remee`s system performance guarantee for their choice of connectors and other components.

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