BICSI 2005 Winter Conference Field Report

The communications organization looks to the future with a new image and expanded mission

Due to the increased use of Internet protocol (IP) in many buildings, the systems and infrastructure designed and placed by BICSI members, installers, and technicians now carry more than just voice and data. Increasingly, the information carried on a building’s telecommunications system consists of audio, video, voice, signaling, signage, life/safety, and security supervision, as well as building control/automation. The system may include anything with a unique Internet address.

For that reason, BICSI is now focused on serving what it calls the information transport (ITS) industry, and it’s changing its image to reflect this new and broader mission. Before more than 3,200 telecommunications professionals at the BICSI 2005 Winter Conference in Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 24-27, BICSI unveiled a new logo and tagline – “Advancing information transport systems” – to help promote the organization’s new mission.

BICSI is so married to the rebranding of the VDV industry, it even urged its members to begin using the term “information transport systems” or “ITS” on their bid proposals, job descriptions, business cards, letterheads, technical presentations and articles. The U.S. Department of Labor has also approved the new title.

The organization also announced it will continue to partner with other associations, such as the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) and Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA). A Canadian organization with over 385 members promoting the automation of homes and buildings in North America, CABA initiated work on the Open Building Information eXchange (oBIX) standard with various building systems vendors.

After defining standard Web services for the monitoring and control of a building’s mechanical and electrical systems, oBIX hopes to enable communications between these controls and other building systems that provide safety and convenience. Some of these other systems include environmental monitoring, financial applications, and even customer relationship management (CRM) software.

The oBIX standard is being developed around the extensible markup language (XML), which is an evolving standard for communicating data across the Internet. XML is similar to hypertext markup language (HTML), which organizes text and images on Web pages. HTML allows graphics and pictures as well as text information to be presented on a single Web page. Hypertext links between files can be easily set up.

Wireless update. In keeping with BICSI’s effort to embrace new services, the first examination for the Wireless Design Specialty and certificate program, based on the new Wireless Design Reference Manual, was held at the conference on Jan. 24. BICSI President Russell Oliver wants Registered Communications Distribution Designers (RCDDs) to consider adding this designation to their credentials.

Eager to promote the wide use of wireless technology, major service providers are installing wireless access points in hotels and shopping centers, public areas, large buildings, RV parks and along highways. Within many facilities, voice, video, data monitoring, and alarm services are being integrated into a single secure network.

According to presenters at the conference, the best way to understand a wireless infrastructure is to start with the standards. The IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN standard covers an RF connection between a wireless client and a base station/access point as well as peer-to-peer wireless users. The standard has several subsets that embrace a variety of other equipment, such as base stations, antennas, device cards, and adapters. At present the IEEE is working on two amendments to the 802.11 standard. One is designed to aid [interworking] between the wireless equipment and external networks, and the other will enhance how network stations are managed.

Two key tasks for consultants who know wireless technology are preparing a site survey at a building to determine the best locations for installing access points (small transmitters) and checking the signal strength of each transmission when the installation is completed. In addition to aiding PDA and cell phone users, wireless communication for tracking inventory items is also a growing market. Many firms in the distribution/supply chains are getting more comfortable with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and are moving into pilot-project mode in the coming year as standards and technology get worked out.

IT spending slowly rising. According to BICSI presenters and attendees, the following four technologies are receiving a lot of attention:

Network security. Concerns over protecting information and two pieces of federal legislation will likely increase network spending. The Heath Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) mandates a secure IT infrastructure is in place by April 2005. Basically health-care providers must shore up their data storage capabilities, which should mean more use of storage area networks (SANs). The market revenue for SAN equipment is forecast to grow at an average annual compound rate of 21% and reach $4.9 billion by 2008, according to Gartner Research.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 tightens up procedures for managing and archiving data. This legislation represents significant changes to federal securities laws in the wake of corporate financial scandals.

Higher capacity cable. Since businesses want to give network-hungry applications more speed, the many variations of copper cabling for the ITS industry continue to expand. As users look ahead to 10 Gigabit/sec Ethernet applications, the decision as to which cable type to specify can be exasperating. One of the challenges for 10 Gigabit/sec Ethernet transmission is alien crosstalk, which happens when coupling occurs between pairs in different cables laying adjacent to each other. To support a full 100 meter horizontal distance, a new classification of unshielded twisted-pair cabling rated to 500 MHz is being developed by TIA, called Cat. 6a, (or augmented Cat. 6). A final resolution, however, isn’t expected until early 2006.

At the conference, suppliers of twisted-pair cabling products promoted their cable and connectors (the two are related for achieving maximum performance) designed to meet or exceed draft specifications.

Coaxial cable is regaining new importance as wireless networks are being widely deployed in buildings. Since twisted-pair copper cabling doesn’t work well at the 2.4GHz to 5.8 GHz frequencies used for wireless networks, coaxial is the medium of choice for distributing various wireless services.

Another niche for coaxial cable is video applications like videoconference rooms and high-end presentation facilities. Additionally, coaxial cable is the choice for connecting large plasma video screens. The cable manufacturing techniques are better than they were 10 years ago, and the cable is more consistent in quality and thus able to meet higher standards. For example, about a decade ago, coax was tested only up to 450 MHz. Today most coaxial cable must meet performance needs up to 3 GHz, and some applications call for 6 GHz specifications. A combination of foil and braid designs improves shielding at these elevated frequencies.

Voice over IP (VoIP). The ability to transmit voice calls over the Internet and IP-based data networks means companies can carry calls within their own enterprise on their own networks, bypassing traditional telecom providers and avoiding toll charges. But VoIP performance depends on many factors including the IP-PBX systems used for voice communications and the amount of bandwidth available.

Power over Ethernet (PoE). Deliver power to VoIP handsets and other devices from a network switch or an intermediate location in the horizontal cable run involves several different implementations. Some techniques provide power on unused pairs in the case of 10/100 Ethernet while others provide power on the data pairs themselves, as in the case of Gigabit Ethernet. In all cases, the voltage is limited to 48V and the current to is limited to 350mA, meaning that 13W of power is available to the device.

Today the entire structured cabling system should be viewed as a information transport utility, so it should handle all possible protocols and endpoints in a consistent way. Basically, any port on the network or in a closet should be able to support high-speed data, traditional voice service, or VoIP.

Future meetings and training programs. In future meetings, BICSI will vary the conference format by providing a mixture of general assembly sessions and an array of two- and three-hour workshops. The organization is also introducing a series of Web-based training (WBT) modules based on its 5th edition Network Design Reference Manual. Two of these WBT modules currently available are Local Area Networks (Chapter 2) and Network Storage (Chapter 10). Four more modules should be available soon. In the end, the BICSI staff is confident that the road ahead will be filled with remarkable innovation and more effective use of communications technology.

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