It’s all about the conversion of technology.

Commercial communications cabling contractors, installers, designers, and end users were reminded that lifelong learning comes with the territory at the BICSI 2002 Cabling Installation Expo and Workshop, October 22-24, as a number of developing technologies converged on the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, R.I. and proved once again that the industry’s product offerings are constantly changing and evolving. Hosted by Cabling Installation & Maintenance magazine and BICSI, the conference gave those who were willing the opportunity to learn about those new cabling technologies and the latest in installation and design techniques.

Workshop session highlights. In keeping with that theme of education and learning, the conference offered a variety of sessions for those who wanted to get off the show floor and expand their cabling knowledge.

Labeling and record keeping – John C. Adams, BICSI Master Instructor and owner of Adams Telecomm, detailed the labeling and record keeping procedures required by the revised ANSI/TIA/EIA-606-A standard on the administration of installed cabling systems. This document describes how to mark cables, telecommunications rooms, patch panels, pathways and termination position identifiers.

The standard sets up the following four classes of administration, taking into consideration differences in size and complexity of a building or campus:

  • Class 1 systems have fewer than 100 users and a single telecommunications room.

  • Class 2 systems have hundreds of users and multiple telecommunications rooms in a single building.

  • Class 3 systems have more than 1,000 users in a campus spread throughout multiple buildings

  • Class 4 systems have thousands of users and a telecommunications system serving a number of geographical locations.

Each successive class builds upon the data required in the preceding one, allowing a common nomenclature and ease of growth. The 606-A standard permits paper-based record keeping as an option for a Class 1, 2, or 3 system, but recommends a software program – such as an Excel spreadsheet or a cable management system (CMS) program – be used in a Class 4 system. When used as a planning tool on major cabling projects, a CMS can offer considerable savings in time and manpower. Adding to those savings, a CMS can appreciably shorten the time needed to troubleshoot a problem by allowing a technician to run a search for the location of the problem or phone number and see the entire path and connection points for the circuit, without wasting time doing a lengthy inspection.

According to the standard, labels should be printed or generated by some mechanical method rather than handwritten. Color-coding is required for different types of cables and for various connection points. It also underscores the importance of giving more time and attention to proper labeling procedures and keeping good records of things like the location of the work area outlet connector, outlet hardware, cable type and length, and cross-connect hardware.

Customer-owned outside plant systems – Adams also presented general guidelines for designing an outside plant (OSP), commonly described as the communications infrastructure for an installation exterior to the building. The design criteria for this type of outdoor work is covered in the ANSI/TIA/EIA-758 customer-owned OSP standard. Codes and standards, such as the NEC, the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC), and OSHA rules must also be observed.

In addition to choosing the most advantageous route, other concerns include selecting the best type of pathway to use – underground, aerial, direct burial or a combination. Each pathway type has its own benefits and limitations. For example, aerial is the easiest type to install, but is very susceptible to damage. Other things to consider include coordination with other trades, right-of-way issues, easements, complying with the bonding and grounding system requirements, and growth factors. Some of the most difficult decisions involve the use of optical fiber cable: what type to use, quantity of fibers, indoor/outdoor type, armored or non-armored, size, rating, and the list goes on.

Fire stop systems – Mike Tobias, president, Unique Fire Stop Products, Robertsdale, Ala., explained some of the important factors to consider when selecting a fire stop system. For example, the user should know the hourly rating of the barrier to be penetrated; a concrete block wall is typically considered a 2-hr barrier. He also pointed out the usefulness of contacting the manufacturers for help in system selection, and emphasized the need to always follow the installation instructions provided with each product. He cautioned the installer to resist any temptation to exceed the limitations of the penetration.

Tobias noted that advanced planning is needed when correcting violations in existing installations, and you should get the approval of the local inspector for the specific system you’re planning to install. At the end of the job, the documentation warning label provided with the system should be posted and the completed job should be photographed as evidence of compliance.

Fiber optic test equipment – Seymour Goldstein, engineering manager, Fluke Networks, Inc., explained how an optical time domain reflectometer (OTDR) can complement the light source power meter (LSPM) and the optical loss test set (OLTS) when testing a fiber system. The OTDR offers a new way of assuring that a fiber installation will support a given application.

The LSPM is the simplest method for testing loss. It places a light source at one end of the fiber and a power meter at the other end. The OLTS combines the light source and power meter in a single unit, allowing one OLTS to be placed on each fiber link end, thus increasing productivity. Offering a very accurate measurement of total optical loss, the OLTS is available for an LED, a VCSEL, or a laser source system. However, the OLTS does have its drawbacks. It doesn’t differentiate between fiber and connector loss, referencing the power meter to the light source adds some measurement uncertainty, and a mandrel wrap is needed with the LED source.

An OTDR sends pulses of laser light through the fiber and the resulting signal trace shows the precise amount of power loss through the cable and at each connector or splice joint. An OTDR will also detect any unexpected and potentially troublesome source of loss, such as a very tight cable bend, and pinpoint where this occurs. In addition, the OTDR measures and documents cable footage, which is useful information. It requires only a single technician at one end of the fiber link, and, although some reading errors can occur, no referencing is needed. Like the OLTS, the OTDR also provides documentation certification of test results.

As the use of centralized network designs like a collapsed backbone and fiber-to-the-desk gain acceptance, the economic value of OTDR testing will become more apparent.

Home networking and automation – Brian Ensign, technical marketing manager, Leviton Voice and Data Division, Bothell, Wash., reviewed the latest technologies involved in delivering and integrating voice (telephone, computer modem and fax transmission), video (base band for surveillance and broadband for cable-TV or satellite service), data (a LAN to interconnect computers and printers), alarm and security devices (dial-out capability for fire and burglar alarms), HVAC, and lighting control throughout the home.

Ensign affirmed the usefulness of the TIA/EIA 570-A “Residential Cabling Standard,” and noted that it now has three addendums ¯ No. 1 for security, No. 2 for home automation, and No. 3 for whole house audio. The standard offers two grades of cabling and hardware: The Grade 1 level provides minimal telecom support and video service, using one 4-pair UTP Cat. 3 or better (typically Cat. 5) cable and one RG-6 coaxial cable to each information outlet. Dual-shielded RG 6 coaxial cable with F connectors are required. At the Grade 2 level, two 4-pair UTP Cat. 5 or better cable and connectors (Cat. 5e is recommended) and two RG-6 coaxial cables are used. One of the Cat. 5 cables is for voice and the other is for data. Optical fiber remains an optional medium for future high-speed, broadband applications. Star topology is required for cabling in both cases, with a 90-m maximum link length from the distribution device to the outlet.

Ensign explained the need for setting up the wring layout with a star topology, and the benefit of following the Grade 2 specifications for maximum network longevity in residences—such a network has a typical lifespan of more than 100 years. He noted that fiber-to-the-home may be the best long-term solution for meeting exploding bandwidth demands created by upcoming video applications.

Cabling for data centers – Roger Jette, Cable Management Solutions, Cerritos, Calif., and Brian Donahue, Wrightline, Worcester, Mass., discussed the issues involved in designing and installing cabling in a data center. With the trend toward the miniaturization of server hardware and the rise of server farms, electric power requirements for this type of space has greatly increased. In one case, a major technology firm is using a value of 600W/SF in the electric power distribution design of its data center.

This concentration of electric power in a small space increases the need for as much as 2.27 tons of cooling per server cabinet to achieve good heat dissipation. Other considerations include advanced fire protection systems and the need to create dedicated cabling pathways for the large concentration of cabling these modern data centers require. Good design practice places the permanent backbone cabling in the overhead spaces for protection and isolation, and places equipment cables in the under-floor spaces. In this case, a cable management system, such as cable tray, is vital.

The power of Ethernet – Charles Di Minico, CDT Corp., Pittsburgh, provided an overview of the current draft for the Ethernet 802.3af standard, which would provide electric power over Ethernet cables. He described how a voice-over-IP telephone handset (an Ethernet device) can be powered over unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cabling.

He cited a technology firm that cut 40% off $120 to $150 it costs to wire a single desktop by installing only one cable to each station, instead of separate data and voice cables. The desktop computer plugs into the 10/100 switches built into the IP telephones. What’s more, with the old PBX system, the firm used to pay a contractor $85 in reprogramming charges each time someone moved into a new office. Now the firm’s IT staff can handle all changes from its headquarters location.

Because it’s much easier to run low-voltage data cabling through a building than to provide electrical outlets to numerous access points for a wireless network, Power over Ethernet (PoE) is becoming a big factor in this market. If you install access points running on PoE, the installation costs diminish and you can put access points and switches on central backup power. However, work still needs to be done to achieve standardized power supply equipment, connecting hardware, and a protocol that recognizes when a device is inserted into the network.

A power supply with a rating of 44VDC and 230mA and an operating voltage range between 37VDC and 57VDC, is envisioned in the standard. Possible additional applications include building automation systems, security access and control, point-of-sale terminals, lighting control, and home automation/entertainment equipment.

Attendees to BICSI’s cabling expos can consistently look forward to a thorough update on the latest technologies and installation practices in the industry, and this year’s conference was no exception. And those who took advantage of the informational seminars presented got the opportunity to get a leg up on the rest of their contemporaries.