TIA standards scene is complex and fast-paced

April 1, 1996
The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA, Arlington, VA) is responsible for the central standards governing residential and commercial premises and campus-wide cabling.

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA, Arlington, VA) is responsible for the central standards governing residential and commercial premises and campus-wide cabling.

These standards are proposed, developed and maintained by committees, task forces and working groups working under the umbrella TR-41.8 committee, which is responsible for the entire premises cabling area. Committee members are volunteers representing manufacturers, end users, professional organizations and other parties. The groups gather quarterly for week-long meetings at various sites around the United States. There is also extensive communication among committee members between quarterly meetings.

The TIA is affiliated with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI, New York, NY), which is the governing body for U.S. standards-making. As such, ANSI has established open procedures applying to committee membership and standards development, so that closed cartels do not have the opportunity to dictate terms to others in the industry. These procedures require that committees be truly representative of, and responsive to, an industry sector, that their work be publicized and available to interested parties, and that the development process for standards incorporate a variety of viewpoints. The latter point, in particular, leads to an exorbitant amount of time for some standards to be approved: They must be balloted, revised and reballoted a number of times before all relevant viewpoints are represented.

Another important point is that TIA standards documents are in a constant state of development, and that committees meet continuously to address emerging issues that need to be incorporated in the next version. Interim documents, known as Telecommunications Systems Bulletins (TSBs), may be issued to cover important developments occurring between revisions of a standard.

A second point is that not all parts of a standard are as forceful as others. A statement that something "shall" be done a certain way signifies that an action is mandatory; other items, often located in appendixes and accompanied by the verb "should," can be viewed as recommendations only.

A third point is that TIA standards represent industry consensus about the best way of doing things. Although they are not laws or legally binding, you can earn the disapproval of the industry for not complying with the standards--a powerful disincentive for economic and other reasons.

Some areas where standards activity is currently taking place include

Open-office cabling

Pathway separation

Outside-plant activities

Building pathways and spaces

Administrative procedures

Residential cabling

Multimedia cabling

Grounding and bonding

International coordination.

Open-office cabling

George Weller of Steelcase Inc. (Grand Rapids, MI) heads the group for open-office cabling standards. "We`re preparing a TSB that`s already into its tenth draft," he says, "and that draft is already obsolete because of the massive response we received. We`re now preparing draft 11, which will take some time. Then we`ll go out for ballot again."

So many revisions have been required because open-office cabling has some particularly difficult problems associated with it. "Modular furniture is more expensive per square foot than that which is wall built by a carpenter," Weller notes, "and any other problems associated with it are long-lasting because of its 20-year life span."

One such problem is cabling capacity. "Most modular furniture systems were designed in the 1970s," says Weller, "when not as many wires were needed." Now with voice, one or more data lines, and possibly fax, modem or video running to a single cubicle, the raceways built into modular panels can be overcrowded. One solution to this problem has been retrofit kits. "There is a $6-billion installed base of modular furniture that has been put in since the 1980s," Weller adds. "Furniture that is older can be refurbished several times before it loses its utility."

Bend-radius limitations

The capacity problem has been complicated by bend-radius limitations on optical fiber and bend-radius and pulling-strength issues for Category 5 copper cabling. In some installations, 25-pair cables have been used to increase raceway capacity, but no standard currently exists for this multipair cable, nor is there an approved testing specification. Separating high-voltage power cables from low-voltage telecommunications cabling has also been an issue for modular furniture.

Another issue is what Weller refers to as trade coordination. In a construction job, cabling installers typically pull cable to an intermediate point on a building floor and wait for furniture installers to put up modular panels. Then the cabling installers pull cable through the raceways in the furniture splines, the furniture installers put on the top caps, the cabling installers finish the terminations, the furniture installers clean up, and the cabling installers test the network. "Careful planning can solve this problem," Weller says, "but the architect often doesn`t plan for the furniture, especially when it is being refurbished rather than replaced."

Weller`s committee intends to put some open-office guidelines into the revision of the pathways and spaces standard, TIA/EIA-569A. "This information has been included in Annex A of draft 11 of our document," he says, "but we`re taking it out because it has caused some confusion." To cover wiring, Weller says his group will have to put out a TSB, because its work was not done in time for inclusion in the revision of the building wiring standard, TIA/EIA-569A.

Pathway separation is an issue because of electromagnetic interference that has surfaced in premises low-voltage cabling. One way to reduce such interference is to separate low-voltage cabling from power lines, fluorescent lights, motors and other electrical sources. But, how much should that separation be? This question is being addressed by TR-41.8.3, the TIA`s ad hoc task group on pathway separation. Chaired by Donna Ballast, a communications analyst at the University of Texas at Austin and the standards representative of BICSI (Tampa, FL), this task group was formed in mid-1994 and hopes to make a contribution to the revision of TIA/EIA-569A, which is underway.

Outside-plant activities

Ballast also chairs a group that formulates policy for customer-owned outside-plant facilities. To date, the TIA has confined its attention to premises issues and has only minimally addressed outside-plant matters, leaving those issues to the telecommunications carriers maintaining the public network. However, many educational institutions, businesses, hospitals, laboratories and factories are built in campuses, where cabling must run between as well as within buildings, and the cabling running between buildings is very different from that found inside them. Because this cabling is owned by the customer and not the carrier, the TIA has recognized the need for oversight separate from that which governs the public network. Ballast`s group represents the organization`s first foray into this area.

Ballast`s working group, PN-3339, is currently reviewing the customer-owned outside-plant guidance included in TIA-569. That information will be expanded in TIA/EIA-569A. By the second revision of the 569 standard--TIA/EIA-569B, which is due in the late 1990s--these guidelines should be ready for incorporation into a separate document on customer-owned outside plant, according to Ballast.

Building pathways and spaces

Paul Kreager of KAI Consulting (Pullman, WA) chairs the TIA-569 committee. He says that one of the biggest issues faced by his group is the much-discussed conduit-fill specification, which limits the number of cables that can be placed in a conduit to a defined percentage of the conduit`s volume. However, this limit is set by the National Electrical Code, which is maintained by the National Fire Protection Association (Quincy, MA), and not by the TIA.

"We are asking for a formal interpretation from NEC Panel 16," says Kreager. He cautions that BICSI claims that the fill limit does not apply to telecommunications cabling, but the TIA maintains that it does--hence, the request for clarification. "The TIA will comply with the NEC until the National Fire Protection Association clarifies the issue," he adds. "This is the conservative approach, and it differs from BICSI`s."

Other changes proposed for TIA/EIA-569A are cosmetic. Kreager says that its terminology will be harmonized with that of other TIA standards and the definitions of technical terms will be made more uniform. In addition, grounding and bonding provisions will be coordinated with the TIA-607 standard, the section on symbols will be transferred to the TIA-606 administrative standard, and the document will be better coordinated with the NEC.

These changes will probably be made. Kreager notes other likely changes: "Firestopping information will probably be moved to a normative annex," he states. "Changes may also be made in the specification for pull-box sizing. References to conduits will be by size only. We`re also thinking about adding a section on the main termination room." Guidance on pathway-separation distance and open-office cabling will also be incorporated from the work of other TIA committees. Kreager expects that TIA/EIA-569A may be balloted by June 1996.

Administrative procedures

Paul Kreager also chairs the TIA-606 committee responsible for the telecommunications industry`s administrative standard. To its current coverage of cable and equipment labeling, record keeping, inventory procedures, work orders and reports, Kreager expects to add sections on building signal system administration, contractor information, building services support and guidelines for the administration of different networking applications.

Ron Provost, a consultant and educator at RGP Consulting Inc. (Woodcliffe Lake, NJ), heads BICSI`s governmental relations program and also chairs the committee responsible for TIA`s residential and light commercial telecommunications cabling standard, TIA-570. He says that the revision will drop the "light commercial" from the standard`s title. "Residential coverage includes multitenant buildings anyway," he adds, "and we can add the light commercial back if it`s needed."

Provost candidly admits that the 570 standard has not been well accepted by the telecommunications industry. "It`s viewed as overkill," he says, but warns that BICSI has filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission (Arlington, VA) that all residential wiring be a minimum of Category 3 unshielded twisted-pair copper wiring. "There`s a lot of quad wiring still out there, but if the FCC amends its rules, Category 3 will be a requirement for everyone," he says.

The residential wiring group is also adding multimedia cabling and home automation wiring to its standard. The TIA committee is working with multimedia organizations, as well as a separate TIA group addressing the same subject, on specifications for broadband cabling to the home. It is in contact with CEBUS, a committee of the Electronic Industries Association (Arlington, VA), which is developing a standard for home automation systems, to coordinate efforts on home-automation wiring.

The TIA`s multimedia committee is TR-41.5, covering premises multimedia architecture. It is headed by Jim Romlein, president of MIS Labs (Watertown, WI). Romlein also heads the TIA-607 committee, which released a grounding and bonding standard last year. This group is currently working on a tutorial on grounding and bonding, known as PN-2771A.

George Lawrence of AMP Inc. (Harrisburg, PA) chairs TIA`s oversight committee. His area of responsibility extends to international concerns, including working with the Canadian Standards Association (Toronto, Ontario) to harmonize the standards between the two countries.

TIA/EIA-569A and the Canadian equivalent, CSA-531, are very similar now," he says. "There are only a few code differences that separate them." The Australians, Japanese and the rest of the world follow a similar standard, ISO/IEC IS-11801, developed by the International Organization for Standardization (Geneva, Switzerland). The European Economic Community also has its own standard, EN-50173.

"We thought that IS-11801 would be approved last year," says Lawrence, "but Canada filed an objection. That held the document up for a year. It was just published in the fall. In the meantime, the Europeans adopted their own standard. I feel that has hurt the cause of international convergence on a wiring standard."

Even so, Lawrence is careful to defend a standards-making process that sometimes seems unnecessarily lengthy, such as the recent case of the revised TIA/EIA-569A document. "Standards must be done carefully," he states. "The courts support them. If fact, there`s a well-known case that took place 15 years ago where an engineering society had to pay $2 million in damages to a company because the society didn`t follow approved standards-making procedures."

This is one of the reasons that ANSI requires an approval period for standards. During this period, all comments submitted to the standards body must be addressed and all objections answered. "At the same time," Lawrence adds, "procedures must be followed so that standards don`t restrain trade or limit competition."

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