Education was the name of the game at this year's BICSI Winter Conference, held Jan. 23-26 at the Gaylord Resort and Conference Center in Orlando, Fla. Opening keynote speaker Jim Carroll, a globally recognized business advisor, consultant, and international futurist, stressed to those in attendance that technology professionals will be obliged to take training courses on a continuous basis to advance their careers, since learning will be the chief occupation of adults in the 21st century. If BICSI members take this message to heart, they will continue to be called on to install the infrastructure and hardware for security, audio-visual, and building automation systems (BAS) — basically anything that is Internet Protocol (IP) centric — in the coming years. If not, they may soon see someone else performing this work.

Trends to watch

The growing use of a structured cabling system for both fiber and copper cables — terminated at an RJ-45 interface, which uses IP for delivering content — gives BICSI a leg up in the fight to provide voice, data, and video services to end-users. The network is quickly becoming the center of business activity. For that reason, BICSI continues to forge partnerships and agreements with other organizations, relating to the education and training of its members.

At the conference, InfoComm International, a trade association of the professional audio-visual and information communications industries, which offers training, certification, and reference books, had a booth in the exhibit area, where it promoted the new Audio Visual Design Reference Manual, 1st edition (June 2006), authored jointly by BICSI and InfoComm members. Other agreements exist with TIA and with the United States Connected Communities Association (USCCA), a community association focused on bringing the value of high-speed communications to future generations by establishing fiber, wireless, and bandwidth-liberating communications infrastructure for businesses and residences. Additionally, discussions are ongoing with the Telecom Project Management Association (TPMA), the United States Telecom Association (USTA), the Canadian Security Association (CANASA), and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA).

Installing structured cabling within a data center is now a little easier, thanks to the new Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA-942) standard for the design and installation of data centers. It urges greater reliance on advanced planning and divides a structure into six spaces: entrance room, telecommunications room, main distribution area, horizontal distribution area, zone distribution area, and equipment distribution area. The standard recommends installing Cat. 6 cabling where twisted-pair copper wiring is used and 50-micron laser-optimized multimode fiber for all optical cabling. In addition, the data center is a logical application for the recently completed IEEE 10GBASE-T transmission standard and the emerging Augmented Cat. 6 cabling standard, which also covers testing procedures.

Cat. 6 cabling is only designed to work up to frequencies of 250 MHz. However, test frequency for 10 Gigabit has been extended to 500 MHz. Transmission performance at these higher frequencies is more susceptible to picking up noise from adjacent cables over longer distances. This type of noise, called “alien crosstalk,” increases in probability beyond a 37-meter cable length. The TIA will soon issue TSB155 (Telecommunications Systems Bulletin), outlining guidelines to field test Cat. 6 systems for 10-Gigabit use. The next step will be to set design specifications and field testing criteria for Augmented Cat. 6 (Cat. 6A) that will ensure performance of a 10-Gigabit unshielded twisted pair cable to 100 meters.

Cat. 6A cables are made with more air space between cable pairs or added insulation to reduce alien crosstalk, thus the cable has a greater cross-section diameter than any of the previous generations. Faced with the prospect of larger conduits and wider cable trays to accommodate the thicker cables, up to as large as 0.375 inches in outside diameter, some designers are specifying foil, or shielded cable, as an alternative. At just 0.29 to 0.30 inches in outer diameter, F/UTP actually has a smaller outer diameter than the smallest available Cat. 6 UTP cable. Additionally, the shielded cable provides port density equivalent to current Cat. 6 UTP and requires less pathway space.

The grounding and bonding requirements for F/UTP cables is identical to UTP. In these F/UTP systems, the shield should surround the cable along its entire length and should remain continuous along the entire length of the channel.

Session recap

The pre-conference seminars drew more than 1,000 people, offering attendees a variety of educational choices, including the following presentations.

In “Fundamentals of AV,” Jeffrey Coil, Graybar Electric, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Kris Kuipers, Newcomb & Boyd, Atlanta; Tony Warner, RTKL Associates, Inc., Baltimore; and Scott Willis, InfoComm International, Fairfax, Va., provided an overview of the new InfoComm/BICSI Audio Visual Design Reference Manual (AVDRM). This session covered the organization of all the chapters in the manual, which features information on lighting, acoustics, HVAC, and audio and video components. Interestingly, other than the title and a list of the contributors, the chapter on grounding and bonding is blank. Since BICSI and InfoComm have differing views on grounding, they were not able to come to agreement on the material to insert in this section. BICSI supports the requirements found in the NEC.

In “The HD RCDD” session, Earl Hennenhoeffer and Robert Stine of Z-Band, Inc., Carlisle, Pa., focused on two events that affect the structured cabling designer or RCDD: 1) the merging of BICSI and the audio-visual (AV) industries; and 2) the Feb. 17, 2009 “digital divide” day, when the nation's 1,700 analog television stations will shut down in the changeover to all-digital, over-air broadcasting.

In contrast with the analog signal transmission on a RF carrier, digital TV (DTV) uses the same binary digits (or electrical pulses) carried by data transmission circuits. Thus, DTV offers extremely sharp images while enabling new interactive features because enormous amounts of information can be compressed — think MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 — in scarce bandwidth allocations. High-definition TV (HDTV) is a specific, and perhaps the most important, component of DTV.

The shift to HD broadcasting will have a far-reaching impact on the video world and on the installation of video distribution equipment and cabling to a variety of locations. Cable operators have begun using a modified system architecture called switched broadcasting — also called switched digital video — to deliver content. They are bringing an optical fiber trunk to a neighborhood and then branching out with coaxial cable (with its 750-MHz bandwidth limitation) to serve 300 to 500 homes on a node.

Concurrently, in many parts of the United States, telcos are providing a fiber to the premise (FTTP) network. At up to 30 megabits per second (Mbps), it represents a major leap compared with the traditional high-speed Internet services, which typically reach a maximum rate of 1.5 Mbps. Users can view films in HDTV format, listen to CD-quality audio, and experience “video chatting.”

For these reasons, the seminar described how a UTP structured cabling system in a building can broadcast more than 100 digital video channels bi-directionally over Cat. 5, Cat. 5e, or Cat. 6 cabling using six equipment components, including signal amplifiers. Essentially, every RJ 45 jack in the building can become a video outlet.

A few of the conference sessions were also worth noting. In “Ribbon Cabling in the LAN and Data Center,” Doug Coleman, Corning Cable Systems, Hickory, N.C., focused on how building and data center backbones are migrating to higher cabled fiber counts to meet system bandwidth needs. In the past, tight buffered and loose-tube cable designs were specified for these backbone applications. But ribbon cable offers the benefit of high connectivity density relative to cable diameter. Nevertheless, polarity management must be followed with ribbon cable installation, and the TIA standard has guidance on three different methods.

In “Broadband Opportunities in the Connected Community,” W. James Hettrick, USCCA, described the efforts of communities to create public-private partnerships that can offer a wide-bandwidth communications infrastructure. Take Loma Linda University in the City of Loma Linda, Calif., for example. The medical school specializes in health sciences. Recognizing the importance of using the latest information technology equipment and systems, the city is mandating “standards” that implement optical fiber and structured wiring for all new residential and commercial developments.

The USCCA was formed in 2005 to enable Loma Linda, along with other municipalities and residential communities, to work with cable operators, Internet service provides, and telecommunications companies that offer broadband services and new media. These partnerships can ensure the delivery of high-speed data to the home and other facilities. In fact, broadband over fiber service is quickly becoming mandatory for service providers who want to be seen as price competitive.