Will the Y2K bug KO the cabling industry?

If we can believe the market research firms that study the cabling industry--and there`s no reason not to--we have experienced steady double-digit growth for a number of years and are projected to continue to do so well into the next millennium. However, market growth projections are based on assumptions about ongoing economic and business trends that may or may not continue into the future.

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

Group Editorial Director

arlynp@pennwell.com

If we can believe the market research firms that study the cabling industry--and there`s no reason not to--we have experienced steady double-digit growth for a number of years and are projected to continue to do so well into the next millennium. However, market growth projections are based on assumptions about ongoing economic and business trends that may or may not continue into the future.

To take one example, mainframe computer manufacturers such as ibm were caught unawares by the popularity of the minicomputer, and mini makers were caught flat-footed by the personal-computer revolution. And who, only 10 years ago, could have predicted the phenomenal growth of the Internet and the rise of networking technology?

One upcoming technological event that is generating a lot of worry among corporate network managers is the millennium bug, also called the Y2K (for "year 2000") problem. Put simply, the problem is this: Much computer hardware and software is set up to recognize dates on the basis of the last two digits of the year only. Thus, 1996 is written "96." Looking ahead, then, many computer systems are going to recognize the year 2005 as 1905, creating massive problems in industries such as banking and finance and in any other business where dated record-keeping is important.

All of this is generally recognized, having received a lot of ink in the media over the last few years. What is not so commonly known, however, is that the Y2K bug could impact other industries as well. For instance, a recent article in usa Today quoted a Gartner Group (Stamford, CT) study projecting that as many as 50% to 60% of major telecommunications carriers will suffer failures in mission-critical systems at the turn of the century.

How does this problem affect the cabling industry? One possible impact is that the money being spent on installing new networks or upgrading older ones will be diverted to replacing software and hardware with year-2000-compliant upgrades. This could lead to a temporary--but major--flattening of the ongoing growth being projected by market research firms.

Another possible outcome is that cabling contractors and cable-plant managers will have more, rather than less, work to do. As premises and campus telecommunications networks experience Y2K problems, infrastructure experts may be called in to help solve them. This seems a less likely scenario, however, since cabling infrastructure is primarily passive, while it is the active equipment and the associated software that will be affected by the Y2K bug.

It is probably impossible to predict at this time what impact the Y2K bug will have on the cabling industry. However, it is not too early to consider the potential impact of the problem in your corporate business planning and to discuss with your peers what the likely outcomes will be. We at Cabling Installation & Maintenance suspect that there may be a stretch of rough road ahead. What do you think?

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