Held January 20-24 at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla., the BICSI 2013 Winter Conference attracted more than 5,000 attendees, exhibitors, and visitors from around the world. During both the educational sessions and on the exhibit floor, IT professionals reviewed a number of new technologies in an ever-evolving industry. The look ahead was matched by a look backward some 40 years to the origins of BICSI. At Tuesday morning's opening general session, BICSI's President Jerry L. Bowman officially welcomed attendees to this important 40th anniversary milestone.

Dr. Judy Genshaft, President of the University of South Florida (USF), was a fitting speaker during the opening session, since USF provided BICSI with office space for almost 11 years while the association was still in its early development. A panel of four BICSI past presidents and a former executive director then sat down with Tampa Bay's WFLA-TV News Channel 8 Co-Anchor Keith Cate to discuss the evolution of BICSI from a small, 17-member association to now serving nearly 23,000 ITS professionals worldwide.

In addition to nearly 180 vendors displaying their state-of-the-art products and solutions, the Exhibit Hall also hosted the sixth annual Cabling Skills Challenge competition, several Speed Challenges, and the E3-Enhanced Education & Exhibits sessions.

Conference highlights

As demand for indoor wireless voice and data applications continue to grow, service providers are challenged to provide adequate coverage within a structure or a campus setting, thus the use of a distributed antenna system (DAS) or small-cell deployments will become increasingly important.

Additionally, communications links to the power grid and the growing demand for delivery of high bandwidth files and streaming video, as well as seamless wireless connectivity, will require high speed networks that offer a high return-on-investment (ROI) over the lifetime of the system. The internet of everything (I of E), predicted by Cisco Systems, will connect people, systems, processes and a multitude of physical objects in a building, such as fluorescent lighting ballasts, as designers specify a single IP-based, cost-effective, network as the "intelligent" backbone to satisfy "smart" building demands. Thus, today's IT specialists are increasingly urging that a building's communications infrastructure be as important as the electrical, HVAC, water, and other building services/systems.

The use of Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON) technology for many markets continues to grow. GPON claims to offer an innovative solution based on a proven delivery system — fiber to the Home (FTTH), offering lower cost cabling, lower power consumption, and the requirement for fewer network devices. PON technology uses wave division multiplexing (WDM) to transmit upstream and downstream data on different wavelengths, serving as alternative to the traditional Ethernet copper-based local area network (LAN) architecture.

Another important development is the integration of physical security with information management (PSIM), which allows more assets to be protected using fewer resources. For example, an integrated emergency notification platform can tie in IP video, IP phones, fire and life safety, access control, digital signage, e-mail, cell/text, outdoor and indoor help stations, 2-way radios, and NOAA weather radio with centralized software.

Educational sessions

The general session's technical presentations covered a variety of topics, including: the convergence of Wi-Fi, DAS and smartphones as multi-venue intelligent amenities; delivering communications solutions in a challenging arctic environment; cabling infrastructure for educational facilities; and the STEP rating system.

In "Next Generation Real Estate: The Convergence of WiFi, DAS and Smartphones as Multi-Venue Intelligent Amenities," James Carlini, Carlini & Associates, Inc., East Dundee, Ill., noted that with the explosive rate of smartphone adoption, mobile customers are demanding that  business of all types become quick, agile, and adaptive in providing new services, such as Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), which allows business transactions (retail sales payments) to be handled directly through the smartphone, which is facilitated by the near field communications (NFC) chip.

Smartphones are becoming the new "edge technology" for many different venues, and demographics are being collected and reviewed as customer service becomes more complex. Carlin anticipates that dual-band (the 2.4GHz and 5 GHz bands) mobile phones will become increasingly more useful to consumers and that any planning for networks in facilities, such as stadiums, resorts, and convention centers, should allow for the support of both bands for increased capacity.

In "STEP Pilot Projects — The Implementation of the STEP Rating System," Allen Weidman, InfoComm International, Fairfax, Va.; Julie Roy, CommScope, Arlington, Va. (also current STEP foundation director); and Charles Fox, Vector Resources, Harrisburg, Pa. — with Herb Congdon, TIA, Arlington, Va., as the moderator -- discussed the value of the Sustainable Technology Environments Program (STEP) rating system. A nonprofit group made up of technology trade association representatives, their members, and STEP supporters, the STEP Foundation rating system extends beyond LEED, Energy Star, the Green Building Initiative, ASHRAE 189.1 and the International Green Construction Code by providing a rating system for all of the low-voltage communications and control systems that support efficiency and sustainability in both new and retrofit structures.

The STEP system encourages project owners and Information Communications Technology (ICT) technology firms to view their products and wiring systems as being used throughout the life of a facility, which includes rehabilitation and reuse of this equipment. The panel discussion also covered the reasons for choosing STEP, the five phases of a STEP project, the pilot projects currently being evaluated, and lessons learned during the evaluation process.

In "Enabling Wireless Broadband Indoors and on Campus Through DAS and Small Cell Deployments," Tracy Ford, The DAS Forum at PCIA — the Wireless Infrastructure Association, Alexandria, Va.; Rod Perry, Crown Castle International, Canonsburg, Pa.; Allen Dixon, Corning Mobile Access, Vienna, Va.; and Bob Butchko, Lord and Company Technologies, Manassas, Va., discussed the advantages and challenges of  wireless communications. A Distributed Antenna System (DAS) uses many distributed antenna elements to provide complete coverage in a structure, so that power is not wasted in overcoming penetration and shadowing losses, compared to a single antenna. Common mistakes in a DAS project are starting too late, poor initial assessments, lack of qualified RF engineering expertise, not using a reference design in the bid process, not allowing for sufficient space and power, and poor coordination with other trades.  For many campus installations, the most economical way to obtain both coverage and capacity on a campus is a hybrid approach that uses DAS, small cells, and even macro cellular towers. Particular concerns in the design of a DAS system include the need to support a variety of devices along with the need to satisfy public safety requirements for E911 — location accuracy.

In "IT Challenges in Construction of New Healthcare Facilities," Joe Wise, Cleveland Clinic, Brecksville, Ohio, described how the Information Technology Division (ITD) supports the Cleveland Clinic, which consists of 204 buildings comprising 24 million sq ft and is the second largest employer in Ohio. The IT Facility Planning and Design Team uses a specific procedure for all phases of construction from the initial design through to completion. The challenges include embracing new technology, corresponding to demanding government regulations (such as HIPAA5010), and adhering to applicable standards and governance agencies. Additional challenges include overreliance on the architect’s and/or MEP consultant's understanding of technology, leading to either an under- or over-design. Not considering technology in the design, inadequate in-house technical standards, insufficient technology equipment center space, poor design and coordination of power and cooling in the technology rooms, and no involvement/ownership during construction are also major obstacles.

Also important are the use of standard faceplate configurations and the use of services-based color coding of cables. Additionally, for penetrations, the Clinic uses a single manufacturer-specific product line exclusively along with a double-tagging system and a third-party to inspect and certify that all wall/floor penetrations meet specifications.

In "It's Not Over Yet: Higher Speed Ethernet Over Copper Twisted-Pair," Stephen Skiest, Panduit, Orland Park, Ill., described how the industry and key standards bodies of IEEE, TIA, and ISO are studying the technology for delivering 40Gigabit Ethernet over copper twisted pair cabling. The cabling study groups are looking at a new Cat. 8 shielded cabling construction using enhanced RJ45 connector hardware and a cable length of between 30 and 5 m, with full-duplex operation. The data center now requires faster, more complex networks to support new applications, and 40 gigabit Ethernet is primarily used today inside blade servers and at the server-switch interface. The anticipated date for the release of a new standard is sometime after 2015.

In "Green Network Solution is the Passive Optical Network (PON) — the Data Super-Highway of the Future," James Clifton, Pearl Net LLC, Atlanta, noted that this fiber technology uses wave division multiplexing (WDM) to transmit upstream and downstream data on different wavelengths, thus offering an economical way of achieving an energy-efficient network, since it provides a point-to-multipoint topology and an economical way to deliver fiber to the desk. The two active components are the Optical Line Terminal (OLT) and the Optical Network Terminal (ONT). No rack mounted switches means less power requirements and electrical equipment.

Based on an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standard, PON eliminates expensive optic-electronic conversion by using passive optical splitters and is infinitely scalable, offering a 25-year lifespan. Enterprise managed software offers the ability to remotely identify and isolate faults and manage thousands of terminals. TIA-568-C.0-2, published in August 2012, adds PON as a single-mode application in a building.

In "Indoor Wireless Accuracy: E-911 Enhancement Solutions," Skip Crilly, Cellular Specialties, Inc., Manchester, N.H., noted that 70% of voice calls and 80% of data sessions occur indoors, and the exact location of an emergency is required by many. Although thousands of nodes and repeaters are installed in higher education institutions in the US for E-911 positioning systems, the E-911 location technologies are rarely evaluated. Because E-911 positioning systems are different from commercial location-based services applications -- and position accuracy degrades when in-building distributed systems are used -- achieving accuracy in 911-location events involves adding addition network elements and adding addition signals using beacons.