New test configurations discussed at BICSI 2001 could force manufacturers to develop better test equipment.

The BICSI 2001 Winter Conference, held at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Fla., in January, drew more than 3800 attendees eager to explore the cabling systems and related software that promise the best long-term investment for their facilities or upcoming projects.

The members-only seminar on Monday morning focused on zone cabling, which offers a practical way to provide moves, adds, and changes to cable sets in open office spaces. This type of hardware consists of either a consolidation point (typically for 20 to 30 users) or a multiuser telecommunications outlet [MUTO] (for an average of six to 12 users). Consolidation points join horizontal cables that originate in the telecom closet to those running to the work area. MUTOs are termination points for the horizontal cable that originates in the telecom closet. You can mount MUTOs on the ceiling, floor, wall, or modular furniture.

Jim Hoover, senior regulatory programs manager for Dupont Polymers, Wilmington, Del., introduced the features of a new limited combustion, UL CMP-50-listed plenum cable that offers a significant improvement in fire safety. The Fire Protection Research Foundation recently issued an interim technical report that says new CMP-50 cables can generate up to 1700% less smoke than conventional CMP combustible plenum cables, which meet only the lesser exceptions in the NFPA 90-A standard. Authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) and end-users have already begun requesting this new cable type for use in high-risk, high-hazard installations such as data centers, airports, telecom exchanges, and other critical business operations.

A panel discussion on evaluating network throughput brought together four experts in LAN network performance to share the latest information on how cabling performance, equipment efficiency, and other factors affect data throughput and bit-error rates. Many networks will have to support 1000 Mb/s or higher in the future because deficient transfer of data through a network can be costly to a business.

Until now, the industry has placed an emphasis on attenuation, crosstalk, impedance, and other test measurements. But with the use of Cat. 5e and Cat. 6 UTP, far-end crosstalk and return loss are also important because they can distort the transmitted signal. This prevents the receiver from interpreting the message and creates the need for message retransmission. You can overcome distortion by using the best type of cable for the application, making sure you install it properly, and testing the installation with an appropriate field tester to verify performance.

Henriecus Koeman, principal engineer, Fluke Networks, Everett, Wash., discussed TIA's recent decision to begin testing the “permanent link” portion of horizontal cable runs, which brought the technology into compliance with European test methods. Koeman said this test configuration forces field-test manufacturers to develop better equipment, while manufacturers will have to produce higher-quality patch cords for use in horizontal runs of UTP cabling.

Rod Bayliss, product specialist, Corning Cable Systems, Corning, N.Y., discussed the uses of interlocking armored optical-fiber cable, which is similar to the construction of Type AC armored cable and metal-clad power cable in the electrical industry. Building owners concerned with the protection, segregation, and identification of their fiber conductors are studying this product as an economical alternative to innerduct and rigid metal conduit. Bayliss also offered installation and handling tips for this cable type, which comes in outer jackets of different colors.

Donna Ballast, a communications analyst/designer at the University of Texas, Austin, Texas, and BICSI's TIA committee representative, described the organization's newly revised customer-owned outside plant installation manual. Outside plant projects are becoming more prevalent as facilities interconnect buildings with voice, data, video, and building operation control systems. Ballast also summarized the ongoing developments on a number of telecom standards, including the new 568-B Commercial Building Telecommunications Wiring Standard, which gives performance and installation requirements for backbone and horizontal cabling (both twisted pair and optical fiber) in office buildings.

Eric Anderson, senior product manager of Phoenix-based Microtest, reviewed the four types of test equipment used on a premises fiber cabling system, which include a visual fault locator (VFL), an optical loss test kit (OLT), an optical time domain reflectometer (OTDR), and a certification test set (CTS). The names of the first two testers describe their purpose. An OTDR uses a graphic trace that is ideal for troubleshooting a fiber run and estimating both splice and end-to-end losses. A CTS tests each fiber at two different wavelengths (858 nm and 1300 nm) and compares each measurement against the user-selected standard to indicate the performance of the fiber.

Carolyn Case, product line manager, Corning Inc., Corning, N.Y., looked at the future of the 50-micron fiber as compared to the 62.5-micron multimode fiber. Historically, the North American market has used the 62.5-micron fiber because it works well with older-style light emitting diodes (LEDs). But with advancements in both LEDs and compact lasers (VCSELs), the 50-micron fiber core size offers higher bandwidth and improvements in distance, speed capabilities, and headroom. This development forces the user to choose between two fiber core sizes, based on network requirements.

Attendees of the BICSI 2001 Winter conference came to Orlando hoping to learn more about cabling systems, but they learned about the future of the industry as well. Presentations on topics from plenum cables to new micron fibers described product advancements that will continue to benefit the cabling system industry in the years to come.