In today’s business climate, it is expected that the commercial buildings that we occupy will be able to support our voice and data networking needs today and in the future. Why is this important? Improperly designed networks can manifest a variety of symptoms, including hum, noise, crosstalk and poor voice quality over phone lines, or low data transmission speeds, failed print jobs, and bottlenecks over data lines. When situations such as this arise, your phones and computers become a competitive disadvantage, causing unnecessary frustration and higher service costs. In addition, your business will be in poor position to adopt new technologies that could give you an edge over the competition as they become available.
To help businesses ensure a strong, reliable networking infrastructure, the Telecommunications Industry of America (TIA) and other standards organizations have teamed up to develop standardized methodologies relating to the installation of structured cable networks. There are standards established relating to wiring buildings, creating pathways and spaces in the building design for network cable, and managing the network cable throughout the building as needs change. Together, these standards provide a “blue print” to architects, contractors, and network installers so that you will have a network that will work with any product from any vendor. These standards are used as requirements for Federal, State, and Local Government buildings, and you should require them for your projects as well.
The most important standard to know about is TIA 568-B.1-2000, the Commercial Building Telecommunications Wiring Standard. It was developed through a consortium of more than 60 contributing organizations, so the support for this standard is very broad. This latest revision to the 568 standard defines the technical and performance criteria for creating a strong, reliable network capable of supporting voice, data, and video. The goal of this standard is to provide:
• A generic telecommunication wiring system for commercial buildings
• Defined media, topology, termination and connection points, and administration
• Support for multi vendor, multi product environments
• Direction for technology migration and future design of telecommunications products
The intent of this standard is to provide best practices for the design and installation of systems that will support a wide variety of services from many vendors, while giving a good likelihood that your network will support future technologies as well. You can expect networks built with 568-B in mind to have a lifespan of 10 years or more. A similar TIA standard for Category 5 cable, widely used for these types of applications throughout the 1990’s, had a life span of about 9 years. During that time, network performance increased ten fold. About 5 years ago TIA updated their standard to specify that only Category 5e cable be used because of the advent of Gigabit networks which are only now becoming prevalent in most business environments.
Utilizing 568-B (and other related standards), it is possible to build integrated structured cabling systems for commercial buildings and campus environments involving multiple buildings. Cable types, connectors, distances, architectures, terminations, performance metrics, installation requirements and testing methods are all outlined in 568-B. Subsets of this standard address the specific issues relating to special cable types.
It’s best to insure that your structured cabling adheres to these standards from the point of initial building design through completion. A good architect can design the building to include equipment rooms, server closets, and cable pathways that meet the TIA standards. With a building plan in mind, an infrastructure engineer can then design your structured cabling around your business objectives and a structured cabling specialist or electrician should be able to efficiently install the cabling. Because many building codes apply to low voltage cabling, it’s important to ensure that all parties involved are aware of these regulations. One example is the requirement to use fire retarding plenum coated cable in environments like open ceilings.
Because it’s much easier to wire a new building while the walls are open versus after building completion, it’s in your best interest to make sure that the job is done correctly the first time. You’ll want to plan for plenty of extra capacity while establishing the design requirements of your structured cabling, because adding a cable drop later will cost you much more. Serious rehabilitation of structured cabling is usually possible, but will cost many more times the price of the initial installation in time, materials, and lost productivity.
Once you have a strong, reliable network in place, your business will be in great position to adopt technologies as they emerge. The physical layer upon which these devices and applications run will be ready to go when you are. This will reduce future project completion costs, add more value to your technology investments, and create a competitive advantage over others in your industry.