Two approaches to standards-making

It struck me recently that the cabling industry has two very different ways of developing its standards. Whether by accident or design, these standards-making procedures break down neatly between the optical-fiber and copper-wire sectors of the industry.

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

Senior Associate Editor

It struck me recently that the cabling industry has two very different ways of developing its standards. Whether by accident or design, these standards-making procedures break down neatly between the optical-fiber and copper-wire sectors of the industry.

The major fiber-optic standards cover standard test procedures for fiber, cable and components, as well as tests for fiber-optic systems. Each standard includes a comprehensive body of test procedures--fiber-optic test procedures for Electronic Industries Association/Telecommunications Industry Association-455A and optical-fiber system test procedures for EIA/TIA-526.

Although these standards and their test procedures are revised periodically, they have been in place for some time and provide a level playing field upon which vendors of fiber-optic equipment can compete. They also give installers and end users the procedures they need to verify manufacturer claims.

One result is that you rarely hear the kind of controversy and misinformation that seems to be endemic on the copper side of the industry.

The optical-fiber industry is not much more than a decade old, while copper wire has been around for at least a century. However, to listen to the heated debates in the trade journals, standards bodies and professional organizations about local area network cable-tester performance, Category 5 link parameters, power and data-cable separation and Level I versus Level II tester accuracy, you would think it was the copper industry that was young and unsettled.

Instead, these debates continue because the standards-making process flows from the bottom up, so to speak, rather than the top down. Fiber-optic standards are based on the physical properties of fiber and components and lead to standardized test procedures, which in turn lead to equipment and component development--a top-down approach. By contrast, on the copper side, vendors develop products, users try them out in their cable plants, and the standards grow out of the experiences (sometimes unfortunate) that arise--a bottom-up approach. In following this standards-making process, one is left with the impression that vendors do not yet fully understand the physical and electrical characteristics of copper wire when used to transmit data at high speed, so how can they be expected to establish adequate test parameters and develop the test procedures needed to verify those parameters?

It is time that the copper-cable industry establish comprehensive standards based on the physical and electrical properties of copper wire and components, that these standards lead to unified testing parameters and procedures, and that test-equipment manufacturers develop the devices needed to perform these procedures.

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