Sometimes, a bit can really bite

Three months ago, I wrote a column entitled “Bits from BICSI,” in which I related some of my experiences from the BICSI Winter Conference held in January.

Three months ago, I wrote a column entitled “Bits from BICSI,” in which I related some of my experiences from the BICSI Winter Conference held in January. In one of the “bits,” I questioned the validity of a pre-standard Augmented Category 6 UTP system demonstration that used video as the data under test. My point was, Augmented Category 6 will be deployed to run very-high-speed Ethernet traffic (10-Gbits/sec, in fact), so a demonstration that included only video transmission was not appropriate.

The most recent BICSI conference took place in early May. On the first day of that event, the man who built the test-bed demonstration that I saw at the January show, and criticized in print, tracked me down. He had read my comments and wanted to make sure I truly understood the purpose and significance of the demonstration.

While I think I always understood its purpose-to show one system’s capabilities in comparison to another’s-I must admit that this time around I got a better understanding of its significance. For one thing, I got a pretty good explanation of why video was used. It is, by definition, visible. The video display allows everybody literally to see how effectively a cabling system carries signals from end to end. Add to that the fact that today there is no commercially available 10GBase-T transmission equipment, and the video demonstration is a little more understandable.

The system’s designer and builder told me that the demonstration could have included a 10GBase-T simulation with a graphical display from a bit-error-rate tester. But such a setup would not have had nearly the impact of the video demonstration.

Fair enough. This company is competing with more than 100 other exhibitors for the attention of everybody who walks by. A video demonstration helps their cause. And we are at a trade show, after all. I don’t recall ever seeing a head-to-head product or system comparison in such an environment in which a company claimed, “Ours is just as good as theirs!” We all should expect a company to point out the superiorities of its wares over competitors.

It is up to the customer or potential customer (or in my case, the media) to understand what we are seeing in such demonstrations and to follow up with the questions that will help us make judgments. That fact underscores my point in this situation. In my case, the demonstration I saw in early May was exactly the same one I saw in January. The difference was, in May I got satisfactory answers to my follow-up questions, particularly about the systems’ connecting hardware.

In January, when I didn’t get answers to questions I thought were important, the entire demonstration lost credence in my mind. The situation was drastically different last month. Questions were heard and answered. The gentleman who tracked me down inside the exhibit hall told me that when he read my comments in this magazine’s March issue, he was quite sure what had happened: I didn’t get the full message in January. He was exactly right. I didn’t.

I have the luxury of observing this industry without being on the decision-making front lines. I do not wager my credibility or my job security based on the purchase of a structured cabling system. So, if I don’t get answers to my questions at a trade show, in a telephone interview, or anywhere else, it’s an inconvenience. As recent history shows, it also may lead to published information that may not reflect a full 360-degree view of a product, system, or organization.

You are in a more precarious position. If you don’t get the answers you need, you may not be able to simply write off the organization you are dealing with. The onus very likely will be on you to persist in seeking information. It seems ironic that you may have to take on extra legwork so that you can potentially spend money with a cabling-system provider. They’re all supposed to romance you, right? You would think so.

But when there is as much on the line as there is when investing in an Augmented Category 6 system, drill down as far as you need to in order to get the facts that will put you at ease with your decision. And remember, this publication is here to help make that job easier for you, not more difficult. I always encourage your feedback on how we’re doing in that regard.

PATRICK McLAUGHLIN
Chief Editor
patrick@pennwell.com

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