Conference goers continue to wrestle with tough concerns about networks of the future.

Attendees at the BICSI Winter Conference, held Jan. 17-20 in Orlando, surveyed the wares of more than 170 vendors and continued to weigh the merits of copper and fiber for new or upgraded enterprise networks. Most of the attendees believe Cat. 5e copper cabling (the choice for new horizontal wiring installations) will eventually supercede Cat. 5 cabling for data applications. They also stressed the industry's need for a published standard for Cat. 6 cabling as soon as possible.

The Members Only Technical Seminar concentrated on two technologies that can provide important features to both business and home users of the Internet. Bernard Daines (World Wide Packets), Sid McWhirter (Vialight), and Jim Burke (Avista Fiber) all of Spokane, Wash., offered Gigabit Ethernet over fiber as the best solution to bandwidth congestion. Their presentations focused on various ways to provide voice, data, and video delivery on a single network platform. They discussed that it's cheaper to put a call directly on the Internet, using what we call Internet protocol (IP), than to dedicate a line or other switched connection from the customers' premises to a carrier or hub located somewhere else.

Burke described a private Metropolitan Area Network using more than 200 miles of optical fiber extending from Spokane, Wash. to Cordalane, Idaho, which uses a topology similar to a spider web. Using large-strand count cable segments and more than 150 access points called Optic Transit Centers (OTCs), this type of layout offers unlimited circuit possibilities. Presently, eight hospitals, six government sites, five credit unions, and 54 schools connect; each using a variety of signals ranging from Gigabit Ethernet to asynchronous transfer mode (ATM).

Technical session highlights. Bill Smith, of Bell South, Atlanta, looked at the significant changes in regulation and technology that make communications possible through an integrated voice and data network. He cited the example of a single incoming call that you could send to a home location first, then to a business or wireless location, followed finally by a message option, to locate a customer.

The use of Internet protocol (IP) for all services delivers enhanced services customers crave, such as call forwarding, toll-free dialing, local-number portability, unified messaging, and intelligent call routing.

Smith also noted the boundaries between the wired and wireless sectors are beginning to blur. And mobile phones won't just be for chatting. Increasingly, more people will use them to scoop information off the Net and transmit short text messages and other data.

Andrew Straw, Siecor, Hickory, N.C., talked about understanding and specifying optical fiber cables. Since it's possible to make errors in writing a spec, Straw provided an update on the available fiber types, including the new laser-optimized and non-zero dispersion shifted fiber. He explained you can specify a product for any cable application (indoor, outdoor, or indoor/outdoor) and fiber type, by addressing only a few characteristics and referencing the appropriate standards.

Peter Tucker and Bruce Wagner, of Lucent Technologies, Holmdel, N. J., offered help for anyone looking to use a cable management system (CMS), as well as those who have used one and failed, by explaining what the software should contain. But remember this: If your system can't document all types of circuits, it's useless! For example, problems can arise when addressing zone cabling, bridged circuits, and duplex fiber.

Steven Goldfarb and Eric Rochelson, Electronic Systems Associates, New York, discussed how people increasingly integrate audiovisual systems with other technologies to share cables used for voice and data applications in a building.

If you place signals of other technologies on the information technology (IT) circuits, allocation of space in IT closets is a big concern.

Gerry Renken, Wavetek Wandel Goltermann, San Diego, described the current state of testing and the existing and emerging requirements for copper cabling. Renken noted the use of a 200 MHz test frequency for the higher performance cables (Cat. 6) is spawning a whole new generation of field testers to meet Level III requirements.

Anixter's director of marketing, Frank LaPlante, announced that tests conducted in the Skokie, Ill. product testing lab show many cabling systems operate inefficiently, even though components are built to industry standards. Results of further testing will be published to educate contractors and end users.