At the BICSI 2007 Spring Conference held at the Gaylord Resort and Conference Center in Grapevine, Texas, from April 15-18, the concern to learn more about cabling and standards was strongly in evidence.

Drawing more than 2,500 information transport system (ITS) professionals and exhibitors, an underlying theme seemed to surface at the meeting. Generally, companies are realizing and accepting the need for higher bandwidth cabling systems, leading them to invest in 1GBASE-T and even 10-GBASE-T networks. Minimally compliant solutions won't provide the needed stability because they lack the headroom or performance margins. Connecting and feeding these higher bandwidth cable runs are the ubiquitous data centers or storage area networks (SANs), which virtually every business requires today.

In addition to jumping on the cabling bandwidth bandwagon, several other subjects were the topic of many a discussion among attendees at this year's spring meeting. Following is a summary of recent standards development progress and industry trends garnering attention at this year's event.

Conference highlights

Given the importance of the data center, attendees heard many references to TIA 942, “Telecommunications Infrastructure Standard for Data Centers,” published in 2005, which provides information for owners and engineers from design through construction. An addendum to TIA-942 is in the works (adding the use of coaxial cabling, for example) as well as an addendum to TIA/EIA 606-A, “Administration Standard for the Telecommunications Infrastructure,” concerning the administration of computer-room cabling systems.

BICSI, in conjunction with the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), is developing a complementary standard to TIA-942, taking the annexes to that standard and expanding on them to create a best practices document. Presently, the proposed ANSI-BICSI-002 Data Center standard is in draft form dated May 18, 2007. In its current form, it is considered a “standards and best practices” document containing more than 450 pages, and it is anticipated to be sent out for industry ballot just after the fall BICSI conference in Las Vegas. The committee is hoping to see this document as a standard by the spring of 2008. Documents that were considered in the creation of the proposed BICSI standard are the ANSI/TIA-942, ISO/IEC-24764, and CENLEC EN 50173-5.

Closely tied to the focus on data center wiring methods is the increased use of optical fiber ribbon cable and pre-terminated fiber-optic and copper cable assemblies. In construction, a fiber-optic ribbon cable contains 12, or up to 144, individual closely packed fibers, achieving the smallest possible diameter within a cable cross-sectional area. Optical fiber ribbons can be faster to terminate or splice because multiple fibers are worked on simultaneously. Similarly, it is easier to manage fibers in optical ribbon form than as an equivalent number of individual fibers. For many years, designers were reluctant to specify ribbon cable in data centers because field terminations were difficult to make. But with innovations, such as ribbon splitting tools, ribbon furcation kits, and field-installable 12-fiber array connectors, the task is much easier for both simplex and duplex connectors.

In addition, pre-terminated fiber-optic cable assemblies are used as backbone cabling in the main distribution area (MDA). Copper assembly typically consisting of six or 12 cables, find use in the horizontal distribution area (HDA) to connect switch cabinets to server cabinets, and in the zone distribution area (ZDA) to run from the HAD to zone boxes. All pre-terminated components are factory-terminated and tested to achieve consistent, reliable performance when setting up a high concentration of switches, routers, and cross-connect equipment.

The quick plug-in connections of cassette-based assemblies allow fiber and copper links to be installed in less time than field-terminated links, achieving considerable installation-cost reductions, while gaining high densities per unit of rack space. A cassette is a packaged cabling assembly that transitions from the array connector to individual connectors.

Interest in another area, video surveillance, is increasing in many industries, because it is no longer used for strictly monitoring and preventing theft. Although stopping theft remains an important issue in retail operations, grocers are now using digital video to analyze how customers move through a store and then adjust the location of promotional material accordingly. Additionally, established vendors of surveillance cameras are broadening their offerings in this market. One firm has a video router that contains analytics software that can improve accuracy in tasks such as counting people in a group or counting objects that pass through a video frame, among other features. New equipment can even recognize suspicious behavior and create alerts.

Specialists in the security field are urging manufacturers to adhere to IT standards so that adoption of IP technology can continue without impediment. One facet of this effort is for manufacturers to get onboard with the 802.1X wired network security efforts. Also important for the growth of IP-based surveillance equipment is the 802.3af standard for Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE refers to the ability to power network devices over the existing data wiring by eliminating the need to create an external power supply for each security camera.

Under the existing IEEE 802.3af standard, PoE injects balanced currents into two of the four data cable pairs, providing a maximum of 15.4 watts at the power sourcing equipment, which is either a PoE-powered switch or a PoE mid-span device. The proposed revision, 802.3at, called PoE Plus, increases the wattage to offer enough power to drive all PTZ cameras and, in some cases, even the heater in an outdoor enclosure. Another standard impacting security is the new 802.11n document for wireless connectivity, which proposes to increase the bandwidth performance on wireless devices by tenfold and distance coverage by 50%.

The use of media conversion in analog video networks can answer many installation concerns, and PoE media conversion can provide the data link as well as inject the power onto UTP interface with the camera while providing the fiber link back to the central location. In general, media conversion can ease the transition to optical fiber transmission and allow the use of existing equipment.

Elaboration on these and other industry trends continued in the conference's educational track, where attendees heard from leading experts in the field on various telecommunications-related topics.

Session recap

In his presentation, “Media Conversion in Video Security and Surveillance Systems,” Todd Duberstein, Transition Networks, Eden Prairie, Minn., discussed the important role that video security and surveillance play in the corporate and government sphere. He reviewed the basic structure of a video network and noted limitations of both coaxial and UTP, where signal conditioning and amplification are needed to go beyond 750 feet and 328 feet, respectively. On the other hand, fiber allows for extended transmission distances and a high degree of immunity for intrusion.

In “The Convergence of Physical Security,” Larry Newman, Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass., emphasized that achieving a secure facility is a major concern for government agencies, transit systems, retailers, and Fortune 500 companies. Additionally, the application of IP-based transmission protocols and digital capture and record equipment is increasing because of the improved price/performance capabilities of the newest equipment. Newman explained how to use existing equipment to maximize the effectiveness of the surveillance system and reduce cost, while also adding insight regarding when to upgrade or replace the older analog cameras.

“Category 6 Shielded Cable Considerations,” presented by Todd Harpel, Berk-Tek, New Holland, Pa., focused on methods for satisfying the requirements of high-bandwidth networks. With the ratification of 10GBASE-T, IEEE identified two existing cabling systems to run 10Gb/s speeds over a full 100 meters — 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 (or Cat. 6A or Class EA). The primary concern with augmented Cat. 6 UTP is the diameter of the cable, which could be as large as 0.354 inches. Fortunately, most venders with this solution have cable in the range of 0.310-inch diameter.

Valerie Rybinski, of Phoenix-based The Siemon Co., talked about “Maximizing the Benefits of Screened and Shielded Cabling Systems,” offering important information on F/UTP, which supports Cat. 6A and lower grades of cabling, and S/FTP, which supports Cat. 7 and higher grades of cabling. Both cabling designs provide up to 1,000 times better immunity from higher frequency noise than UTP. Rybinski described the construction of these cables, which are gaining increasing acceptance, and dispelled the myths concerning the cables acting as antennas and the generation of ground loops. Three types of noise involved in signal degradation are differential noise, environmental noise, and ground loop noise.

Presented by Jacob Cervantes, Extra Tech Communications, Dallas, “Low-Voltage Opportunities in the MDU Environment” described the various services and conveniences that can be carried on a structured cabling system in the public spaces and individual apartments of a multiple dwelling unit. For public spaces, these include security cameras, theater rooms, audio video services, key card/gate access, and wireless access points.

In his presentation on “How to Wire Residences and Business for CE Applications,” John Pryma, Honeywell Cable Products, Pleasant Prairie, Wis., emphasized the growing market for structured cabling in a residence or a small business environment. Pryma noted that burglar alarm installers, electricians and electronics installers are overlapping in home technology designs and installations. He also noted the digital home of 2010 will require a 52.02 Megabit per second network to support future service needs. Competing to supply triple-play services of voice, video and high-speed data, optical fiber, digital subscriber line (DSL) or cable modems provide the necessary high bandwidth connection to the home, but the question of how to distribute the information (analog or digital) through the residence is best answered by adhering to the standards.

Sidebar: Cable Run 101

In regard to cable insulating materials, a single-family home can be wired with CM (general purpose) rated cable. Additionally, a single-story commercial building can use the CM rated cable if the HVAC system is ducted for both supply and return. But more expensive insulating compounds must be used in CMR (riser) cable for runs going between floors. And cable placed in an air handling plenum must be CMP (plenum) listed.

All cable runs in a residence should be planned in a logical manner. For example, cable runs to connect all the audio/video gear may be carried in surface-mounted raceway. If cables run from a first floor family room to a basement location, where patch panels or other cabinets are installed, the opening in the floor must be fire stopped in compliance with requirements of the National Electrical Code.

ANSI/TIA-570-B, “Residential Telecommunications Infrastructure Standard,” is the reference for the cabling requirements of a residence while a commercial project should follow ANSI/TIA/EIA-568, “Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling Standard.” The main difference in the two standards involves the termination of UTP cable: pairs two and three are reversed.