Areinvigorated cabling industry was in evidence at the Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI) 2006 Winter Conference, held at the Gaylord Resort and Conference Center in Orlando, Fla., from January 23 to 26. The 3,400 attendees and exhibitor reps were anxious to learn about the cabling design and installation techniques needed for security and audio/video systems as well as the standards and technology associated with today's ever-popular wireless systems. Following are some highlights from this year's event.

Organization focus

BICSI has grown from an organization concerned with the installation and maintenance of cabling within a facility or campus to one that enters partnerships with other groups that provide audiovisual services, building controls, security, and more. What once was a telco-regulated world has transformed into an industry that is considered the “fourth utility.” Despite this new focus, BICSI's main goal continues to be providing education to its members and other industry personnel through a variety of services. One group that supports this training goal is InfoComm International, a Fairfax, Va.-based trade association of the professional audiovisual and information communications industries. In fact, BICSI members can earn continuing education credits (CECs) by taking on-site and Web-based training courses from InfoComm.

BICSI has also changed its management procedures. Up until now, the president has been elected from membership for a two-year term. During this time period, he or she would develop and implement a plan. Now, new president John Bakowski is using a knowledge-based governance system to manage the organization under the directive of the association's 12-member board. This new approach will allow each successive president-elect to better follow through on the organization's 10-year plan.

New publications unveiled

BICSI is offering two new manuals and updating three existing publications this year. The Electronic Safety and Security Design Reference Manual, 1st Edition debuted at the conference. This 600-page document — the first with color — covers the design and integration of equipment for access control equipment, surveillance cameras, biometric scanners, door entry devices, and other ESS systems. According to Jerry Bowman, the North American director of ACE and Advanced Technologies of Systimax Solutions and the manual's project manager, security is the fastest growing segment of low-voltage systems in a facility network.

Other manuals to be introduced this year include: Network Design Reference Manual, 6th Edition (January 2006); Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual, 11th Edition (May 2006); Audio Visual Design Reference Manual, 1st Edition (June 2006); and Wireless Design Reference Manual, 2nd Edition (June 2006). The revised Network Design Reference Manual contains extensive material on Gigabit and 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Two appendices cover legacy networking technologies (i.e. Token Ring, FDDI, and ATM) and numbering conversions (i.e. binary, decimal, and hexadecimal).

Another publication, the American National Standards NECA/BICSI 568-2001, Standard for Installing Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling, is currently under revision and will include the latest installation techniques for Cat. 6 and laser optimized fiber cabling in a commercial building. Enhanced testing methods, including how to certify UTP and optical fiber systems are covered, as well as additional safety requirements of the 2005 NEC regarding abandoned cabling. More details on cable support systems are also included. The biggest change in this revision is a relaxation of the existing power separation requirement. The minimum separation distance for cable support systems from possible sources of EMI exceeding 5kVA will now vary, according to the source.

But that's not all that's going on in the publication arena. BICSI is also preparing other standards covering bonding and grounding, educational facilities, and residential installations. Ron Shaver, BICSI's manager of knowledge architecture, foresees a new standard being developed for data centers that will cover design and installation requirements for cooling, electric power, and all other equipment used within a data center.

Hot topics

Delivering DC electrical power to devices on a network is a key issue in the datacom industry today, with so much interest in IP-based telephone service. Power over Ethernet refers to the IEEE 802.3af Power over Ethernet (PoE) standard, which allows balanced currents to be injected into two of the four pairs of conductors in a network cable and eliminates the need for an external power supply for each device. Thus, the same cables that transport Ethernet data also deliver the DC power required by the phones, wireless access points, audio speakers, security cameras, smoke detectors, alarms, and PDA and MP3 stations. PoE also allows for battery backup of these devices — they could be served by an uninterruptible power supply.

Either a PoE-enabled switch or a midspan device can deliver this power: 5.4W minimum, derived from 44V times 350mA. Since a midspan can connect to existing Ethernet switches, their use can be less costly than upgrading to new PoE switches. However, most customers prefer to have PoE integrated into their managed network, which means the purchase of PoE-enabled switches and hubs.

Because more devices or services will populate a network in the future, a study group is working on creating an enhanced IEEE 802af standard that will provide “the maximum practical power” to a powered device (PD). The maximum practical power is limited by the surface temperature limit on a cable, which could be buried in a large bundle or cable tray. A similar concern on heat buildup relates to the 8-pin modular connector. Sounds a lot like the NEC committee's concern on the amperage and temperature rating of power conductors, doesn't it?

Emerging trends

The industry seems to be showing a renewed interest in coaxial cable because it is gaining wide usage in commercial CCTV and CATV applications and in broadband home entertainment installations. The call is for use of the more expensive RG-6 cable construction with the advent of high-definition television services.

One pre-conference seminar and two conference presentations covered the topic of providing adequate equipment cooling within a data center because compact blade servers are now dominating the market. With power loads of 20 to 25kW projected for a single server rack enclosure, heat removal is critical for long component life and reliable network performance.

A strong interest in fiber optic cabling was evident in one pre-conference seminar and two conference presentations, covering both single-mode and multimode fiber constructions with various fiber distribution designs. With the decline in landline voice revenues, the telcos, anxious for new income sources, are moving fiber closer to the home, anticipating a surge in broadband demand. Vendors showed a variety of new high-performance fiber connectors (SC, ST, MT-RJ, and LC styles) and a host of fiber types for every application.

Attendees continue to ponder the merits of Cat. 6 and Cat. 6a copper cabling systems, and vendors showed a variety of high-performance cabling and connector systems and test equipment that look ahead to the deployment of 10-Gigabit Ethernet in a facility. A 10-Gigabit Ethernet standard from the IEEE should be ready for publication mid-year.

Some booths were displaying a sign with a new acronym: RoHS, which stands for Restriction of Hazardous Substances. This is a European Union (EU) directive (2002/95EC) that bans new electrical and electronic equipment entering the European market if they have more than specified levels of hazardous substances, such as lead cadmium and mercury. The effective date of the directive in Europe is July 1, and U.S. cabling/equipment manufacturers share these RoHS concerns. Some of the manufacturers at the show were promoting RoHS-compliant products, and many states in the United States have adopted or have pending legislation involving RoHS rules.

What does the future hold?

Now that structured cabling standards are firmly established in the industry, there comes a call for having a number of high-density, low-speed applications share a single cable, to reduce the number of cables required in a call center, classroom, or patient recovery room, for example. Cable sharing is allowed by TIA, ISO, and the NEC. In fact, one manufacturer is currently making the case for carrying phone, audio announcing, data, video, and building automation control, on a 100-ohm, S/FTP (braid screened, foil over each pair) cable. This Cat. 7/Class F cable, which is widely used in Europe, eliminates the crosstalk between conductor pairs and other interference.

A case study of a 200-agent call center with two outlets per agent was able to slash the number of outlets to 250 — a 38% reduction. For a school with 50 classrooms, the 350-outlet requirement could be reduced to 150. A non-RJ-45 style connector, available from five manufacturers, can be used to terminate the cable.

Encouraging outcome

According to BICSI, this year's event was one of the most successful in recent years. More than 2,000 additional people visited the exhibit hall, which featured a record-setting number of 210 exhibit companies and two mobile exhibit trailers. In addition, there were also 154 first-time registrants at the conference.

From seminars, speeches, and committee meetings to the awards banquet, golf tournament, and charity fundraiser, this year's event was definitely a success, providing a forum for attendees to network with their peers and stay on top of the latest technology and educational developments in the low-voltage industry.