The BICSI 2005 Spring Conference, held at the Mirage Resort and Convention Center in Las Vegas, May 2 to 5, drew more than 3,200 telecommunications professionals interested in learning about the new markets and services that deliver information for audio, data, video, and voice circuits.

Increasingly, the information carried for these services and for signage, life/safety and security supervision, and building control/automation can run on a common physical network. And the nodes, or components, in each of these systems can have a unique Internet address. As a result, BICSI now serves the growing information transport (ITS) industry, and its new logo and tagline “advancing information transport systems” express that concept.

BICSI is planning training manuals and certifications in the fields of wireless, electronic safety and security, audio/video, and integrated building systems. And the topics covered at the Spring Conference reflected the increasing breadth of markets BICSI currently supports.

The wonders of wireless. Despite its origins in wired networks, BICSI — and the organization's shows, in particular — has become the clearinghouse for the latest trends in wireless technology. Cell phones, wireless LANs, wireless home networks, and Wi-Fi sites allow voice and data communications to take place without any location restrictions. The following technologies and concepts were the most popular wireless topics of conversation on the show floor.

WiMax — One of the most talked about over-the-air services is Wi-Fi. The next generation version of Wi-Fi, called WiMax, will represent true wireless broadband service. It's expected to deliver data speeds of 70 Mbps.

While faster data speeds attract attention, the important advantage of WiMax is its greater range. Experts in the field predict it will be able to transmit signals over distances of more than 37 miles. Much like cellular service, WiMax signals can blanket specific neighborhoods or an entire city. Using the WiMax technology, Rio Rancho, N.M., now provides fixed and mobile high-speed Internet access as well as more advanced services, such as point-to point virtual private network connections, Voice-over-IP (VoIP), wireless video surveillance, and high-speed access for cars traveling at speeds as fast as 55 mph.

The WiMax Forum, an industry association that has specifications for fixed WiMax (802.16d), will start testing equipment for certification this summer. This group is also working on specifications for mobile WiMax (802.16e).

VoWi-Fi — The Networld + Interop 2005 conference, held in Las Vegas at the same time as the BICSI meeting, unveiled Voice-over-Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi). In some instances, it could allow mobile devices to replace the office desk phone. VoWi-Fi offers better coverage indoors and higher voice quality than conventional cellular services. Also, unlike cellular services, it can be integrated with wired phone systems.

RFID — Wireless communications for tracking inventory items continues to grow. Many firms in the distribution/supply chain market are setting up wireless networks for radio frequency identification (RFID) systems. This year, Wal-Mart is looking to add mobility to RFID tag reading in warehouses to simplify the inventory process. It's testing an RFID-enabled forklift in its Bentonville, Ark., lab that would read tags on pallets and transmit data through a wireless network to a warehouse-management system, which sends data on inventory to business applications. The Boeing Co. and Delta Air Lines will begin testing RFID on jet engines to keep track of maintenance requirements and history. And the health-care industry is also testing a form of RFID called a “Surgichip” tag that's intended to prevent surgical mistakes. A 2-inch-by-1-inch label is stuck on a patient's skin near the surgical site, and the operating room staff reads the tag with a handheld reader to obtain patient information before a procedure.

Don't dismiss cable. An extensive wired network is always needed to support any wireless communications system in a building. In fact, connecting one user to a wireless system requires just about as much cable and cable management as a completely hard-wired LAN. The only segment that's literally wireless is the distance between the access point — which is usually installed in the ceiling and wired back to the telecommunications closet — and the phone, computer, printer, or other device being served.

High-performance copper cabling — At least eight vendors offer unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) systems that they claim will provide 10-Gigabit/sec Ethernet transmission. These cabling systems generally involve the use of a new classification of UTP cabling called augmented Cat. 6 UTP. However, its performance has yet to be defined in any published standard. To achieve greater network bandwidth, the new designs reduce signal interference between cables, called alien crosstalk, or ANEXT, which is caused by coupling between pairs in different cables laying adjacent to each other.

To reduce ANEXT, augmented Cat. 6 cabling has a larger overall cable diameter that positions the conductor pairs farther away from the cable jacket, which means the cable cross section has a greater diameter and occupies more space in a cable tray or in a conduit. However, the cable is also stiffer, making installation more difficult.

At present, the only standards-based LAN products for 10-Gigabit Ethernet (10-GbE) are optical fiber and twin axial cable (two-conductor coaxial cable). Thus, the IEEE task force 802.an is working on a 10-GbE standard that allows transmission of 10 Gb/s over balanced twisted-pair copper cabling. One objective is to deploy 10 Gb/s around the present electrical characteristics of Cat. 6 at a distance less than 100 meters. They're also looking at additional requirements for an augmented Cat. 6 cable that can run over the full 100-meter distance.

Some manufacturers are also offering a Cat. 6 foil twisted-pair (FTP) system that's already tested and approved for 10Gb/s at the full horizontal distance.

Indoor/outdoor fiber-optic cable — The market for this versatile cable is constantly expanding, since it offers several advantages. The new indoor/outdoor product lines can be installed beyond 50 feet inside a building and still satisfy the requirements of the NEC. This will help reduce the need to splice it to an indoor fiber cable. In the past, contractors didn't want to use this indoor/outdoor fiber cable because of the increased expense, but now they'll probably find it cost-effective on a typical project.

An Internet expansion. Attendees also got the latest on Internet-based technologies that are offering new capabilities.

VoIP — This technology continues to gain attention because of its many attractive performance and cost-saving features. But at present, VoIP can't claim to offer the reliability and quality of service experienced in a dedicated voice circuit in the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), because it can suffer from latency, jitter, and possible packet loss.

The latest scheme, multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), uses specialized routers in the phone company's network to assign labels to data packets. These labeled packets are forwarded, not by the usual algorithms that generally qualify the Internet's traffic needs, but according to specific label information.

Although VoIP is another data application, it can be even more secure than the analog telephone circuit because almost all IP telephone gear uses encryption schemes.

Feel the power. Power over Ethernet (PoE) is a growing method of providing power to IP-based telephones. The IEEE 802.3af Task Force has ratified this technology, which delivers power over Cat. 5, 5e, patch cables, patch panels, and connecting hardware. Vendors of power IP-connected devices, such as wireless LAN (WLAN) access points (AP), and security products, endorse it.

However, some of these devices, such as multi-channel and outdoor WLAN APs, video screen VoIP phones, and pan-tilt-zoom network cameras, require more than the allowable 13W of power. Inserting UPS-protected power at the mid-span of a horizontal cable run eliminates the need for an external power supply, and work is being done to modify the standard and achieve a variety of power delivery methods to equipment.

Vendors at the spring event were showing a number of mid-span devices, which makes injecting DC power onto existing copper cable as simple as routing patch cords. It also eliminates costs for switch ports where power isn't needed.

At the end of the day, the Spring Conference left attendees with several things to think about until they reconvene in Nashville, Tenn., this August for the BICSI Fall Conference.




Sidebar: A New Twist on Abandoned Cable

An Austin, Texas-based consultant gave a presentation at the conference in which he recounted a story of a local AHJ asking for communications cable to be removed from a sports facility that was being renovated. The abandoned cables in the non-renovated areas were subject to removal as well if the abandoned cables were equivalent to more than 30% of the total cables in the non-renovated space.

According to the consultant, many building owners are now adding language to their leases that require tenants to remove their cable, and some are trying to require tenants to remove all cables in their space — even the cabling that existed prior to the tenant's arrival.