Held April 15-18 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Conference Center in Nashville, Tenn., the BICSI 2008 Spring Conference drew more than 2,100 information transport system (ITS) registered attendees, exhibitors, and visitors to a forum where installers had a chance to show their skills for the first time. A total of 23 ITS installers and technicians competed in a skills contest right on the exhibit show floor, with the goal of becoming the BICSI “Installer of the Year.”

Jessie Spearman, an ITS technician with Vision Technologies, Inc., Glen Burnie, Md., won the first-ever challenge. “I am very excited to be able to say that I'm the BICSI Installer of the Year,” said Spearman. “The $5,000 check that comes with it isn't bad either.”

The installation skills contest tied in well with the announcement of a new ITS Installation Methods Manual, 5th edition. This vendor-neutral manual includes detailed information on pathways, spaces, associated hardware, and structured cabling/optical fiber systems within commercial buildings.

Because increasing energy efficiency amid rising demand for network bandwidth connectivity is so important today, the recently finalized ANSI/TIA/EIA-568-B.2-10 standard was also discussed throughout the conference. This new standard defines performance and testing requirements up to 500 MHz for Augmented Category 6 (Cat. 6A) cabling systems to support the operation of IEEE 802.an 10GBASE-T Ethernet applications. Vendors are now promoting their cable and hardware offerings as being able to deal with the two primary alien crosstalk sources: alien near-end crosstalk and alien far-end crosstalk.

Along with specific testing/sampling methods, the installation recommendations of the new TIA standard will be important to ITS professionals, because minimally compliant solutions won't provide the needed stability and lack the headroom or performance margins.

Conference session highlights

In “Maximizing the Benefits of Screened and Shielded Cabling Systems,” Valerie Maguire, The Simon Co., Watertown, Conn., underscored the need to control alien crosstalk when specifying 10GBASE-T capable media. Maguire described the characteristics and construction of F/UTP (foil) type cable, which supports Cat. 6A and lower grades of cabling, and S/FTP (shielded/foil) cable, which supports Cat. 7 and higher grades of cabling. The use of either an overall foil or fully shielded pairs in the cable assures superior performance compared to unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cabling. While noting that these cables are gaining wide acceptance, Maguire dispelled a number of common myths surrounding these cable types, such as the misperception that they act as antennas and generate ground loops.

With the ratification of the 10GBASE-T (802.an) standard in 2006, IEEE identified two existing cabling systems to run 10Gb/s speeds over a full 100 meters — calling them Class E/Cat. 6 Foil Twisted Pair (FTP) or Class F/Cat. 7. In addition, a new cabling system was identified for full 100-meter distances: Augmented Cat. 6, Cat. 6A, or Class EA.

In “Re-Cabling an In-Patient Hospital Facility,” Jim Flynn, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, N.H., described a major upgrade at the center that involved a 400-patient tower and construction of 10 new telecom rooms, which involved integration of new equipment into existing voice and data backbones. Flynn's presentation was a good example of how the health care industry is increasing its use of sophisticated diagnostic, patient-monitoring, and treating techniques, which are supported on a wide range of evolving cabling systems.

In “Fiber Certification: The Impact of a New Standard for Multimode Fiber Measurements,” Dr. Andre Girard, EXFO, Quebec, Canada, reviewed the need for a common set of metrics and measurement to ensure repeatable results in using an OTDR to test this type of optical fiber.

In “Bend-Optimized Fiber in FTTx Applications,” David Massarese OFS, Sturbridge, Mass., made a case for the use of recently developed optical fiber constructions that can be installed in dwelling units without suffering any degradation. Essentially, fibers being deployed in homes and apartments, for HDTV and other demanding applications, are subject to tight bends and rough installation practices. Massarese outlined the development of the latest standards, technologies, and products now available for this growing application.

In “A Quantitative Comparison of High Efficiency AC vs. DC Power Distribution for Data Centers,” Wahid Nawabi, APC MGE, West Kingston, R.I., described the efforts to increase the efficiency of both the electric power equipment and the IT power supplies as a way to decrease overall electrical power consumption and reduce the associated cooling costs for data center gear. Both categories are benefiting from increasing efficiencies. In fact, Nawabi noted that an AC power delivery system today has nearly the same efficiency as a DC power delivery system. He concluded that the best power delivery system to consider for the future is a 415/240VAC system, which is carried right up to the power supply of the IT loads.

Industry researchers predict that by next year, businesses will spend more money to power and cool their data centers than they spend on the servers and switches inside. This dilemma is shaping up as the IT battlefield for the next decade. A variety of cool-down tactics include: changing from fast, hot processors to cooler dual- and multi-core processors (cooling at the chip level is even sometimes considered); organizing server racks with hot and cool aisles to improve air circulation; sealing holes and other openings to prevent cool air from escaping where it is not needed and hot air from circulating; and moving the cooling system closer to the servers.

In addition, good cable management in the plenum spaces and in racks can help increase the cooling efforts and thus reduce power usage. If the cable locations hamper proper airflow, or if under-floor cables are not routed to ensure cool air delivery into the room, the AC system has to work harder, thus increasing operating costs. The proper racks and enclosures are also important items to keep in mind.

In “The Total Cost of Ownership: IP Surveillance vs. Analog,” Kevin Doyle, Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass., presented an independent study, confirming the advantage of IP-based transmission protocols and digital capture and record equipment compared to older analog cameras and storage methods. Using a test case involving 40 cameras, 30 of which were indoor-fixed dome type, the report found the total cost of ownership for the IP system to be less than the legacy system. Other advantages include: superior scalability, greater flexibility in deployment (if Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) is used), a superior image, and a higher screen resolution using megapixel resolution. The UTP cabling is also easier to troubleshoot than coaxial cabling, and the IP-based system allows remote monitoring over the Internet. PoE refers to the injection of electric power onto the UTP network wiring, eliminating the need to create an external power supply for each security camera.

In “2008 National Electrical Code Update,” Raymond Heintel, Westlake Reed Lekosky, Cleveland, reviewed the changes in the Code that are relevant to the ITS industry, while also noting that the latest edition has better language, new definitions, and a revised numbering system, which offers unification benefits in the future. Specifically, there is a new definition of bonding and a clarification on use of screws in Sec. 250.8, Connectors. He also explained changes relating to bonding of equipment and use of conductors with green insulation for other than equipment grounding purposes, abandoned cable, surge arresters, classified locations, and protection of wiring.

In “Wireless Project Management: Building the 3rd Generation Broadband Wireless Network,” Don Nelson, Nelson Consulting Associates, Clifton Park, N.Y., described the race to bring ultra-fast wireless Internet service to consumers across the nation. The biggest IT news story of the year is the auctioning by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of some of the bandwidth used for analog TV broadcasting, specifically UHF channels 52 through 69. With the impending switch to digital television, this portion of the broadcast spectrum is particularly important. This 60 MHz of spectrum is the last prime real estate for mobile communications that will be available in the United States for decades to come. Lying in the 700-MHz band, substantially below the 800- to 850-MHz and 1900-MHz frequencies already used for mobile phones, it will have specific advantages — namely the ability to penetrate buildings with ease and travel great distances. This frequency package has been dubbed “ocean-front property” because of its value in the wireless industry.

Two nationwide phone companies, Verizon and AT&T, were the big bidders in a March auction of this air space. This bandwidth will allow these two companies to encroach on cable companies' turf by offering video, data, and voice service, along with wireless phone services. But cable companies are responding with their own wireless strategies. One new venture has Sprint and Clearwire, a start-up company, joining with cable TV giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Internet giant Google, and chipmaker Intel in this type of venture. The plan involves a national WiMax wireless voice and data network that will feature Internet download speeds of a cable connection and the reach of a cellular phone network.

In addition, over the next three years, U.S. cities and towns will pay up to nearly $700 million to build municipal WiFi networks, predicts an industry source. Nelson also described the opportunities that will present themselves for ITS professionals based on this $20 billion undertaking, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal written by Amol Sharma and Vishesh Kumar. Workers with skills in project management, RF engineering, network design, site acquisition, and site construction will be in high demand.