A "Cable" to Smart Building Designers

In these pages, and online in CSE NewsWatch and our BAS at a Crossroads webcast, we've frequently reported on the confluence of building automation and business enterprise systems. For those energized about the potential of this development, obviously, it means rethinking a lot of things, and perhaps toward the top of that list—at least in terms of the technologies most ready for change...

01/01/2005


In these pages, and online in CSE NewsWatch and our BAS at a Crossroads webcast, we've frequently reported on the confluence of building automation and business enterprise systems. For those energized about the potential of this development, obviously, it means rethinking a lot of things, and perhaps toward the top of that list—at least in terms of the technologies most ready for change—is cabling.

In the recent BuilSpec seminar series, Paul Ehrlich, president of the Business International Group, Minneapolis, told those attending the seminar, which was about the future of BAS, that structured cabling, literally, is the element that ties things together.

"Historically, all building systems utilized dedicated cabling," he said. "But the movement in the past five years has been toward a single cabling system that can incorporate all systems."

Structured cabling, initially, was most common for networks and phones, but now it can easily be extended to pick up CCTV, fire alarms, security, and most importantly, building automation systems.

"BAS cabling, for the most part, is still different from voice/data systems, using a chain or daisy loop vs. the star configuration used with voice/data," said Ehrlich. "But EIA/TIA [Electronic Industries Alliance/Telecommunications Industry Assn.] recognized this and has addressed it with its new 862 standard."

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), he added, has also developed a number of new standards that will lead to several new technologies in the near future.

According to Mike Barnick, senior manager of solutions marketing for Systimax Solutions, Richardson, Texas, one new cabling technology that has emerged from those new standards, specifically IEEE 802.3, is 10-gigabyte per second, unshielded, twisted-pair cabling over copper.

With the majority of buildings using or even still moving toward category 5 or 5E cabling, Barnick admits that 10-GB, or category 6a cabling, is obviously only a niche right now for the most mission-critical of operations, such as data centers. That being said, if smart buildings, offering techy features like Wi-Fi or high-speed Internet as standard utilities, are something that more and more developers are exploring, then being up to speed on the fastest cable offering is not such a stretch. "Mainstream America is not ready for 10 GB, but we're already moving toward 1 GB," said Barnick. "But take a real estate office. Right now, they might use about 10 Meg. But that may soon change very quickly. What if they want to start doing virtual tours of their properties?"

For the record, 1 GB is 1,000 megabytes. Category 5E is what would typically be employed to handle such data transmissions. By comparison, systems using only about 100 MB would run on category-5 cabling. Furthermore, it is possible for today's standard—category-6 cabling—to handle 10 GB. But according to Barnick, it's a question of distance and reliability. "About 55 meters may be doable with category 6 cable," he said, "But will it effectively deliver 10 GB?"

The issue, he noted, is cross talk, specifically ANEXT or "alien" cross talk, where information from adjacent cabling electromagnetically interferes or becomes mixed in with the information on a specific cable. "On the phone you'd hear another person's conversation—but you can't have that with data because it slows the network down," said Barnick.

This situation is also worsened by the way cable itself is laid. Most cables, he said, are bundled in installation. Such proximity only heightens the opportunity for cross talk.

Of course, one solution to the distance/noise problem is to go with fiber-optic cable, which Barnick's company also offers. However, he said, it's expensive. And even though rising copper prices don't make UTP cable inexpensive, 10-GB cable can go 100 meters and is still less costly than the fiber-optic alternative. Furthermore, Barnick's company has also modified its insulation and jackets to further help with the alien cross-talk problem.

Sound confusing? It is. But back to BuilSpec. Ehrlich introduced a new acronym to his audience: CLA—Communications Life Safety and Automation. Coined by BICSI, he explained the term is gaining prominence in describing the group of systems and infrastructures that transport information to a building.

So who is this CLA specialist? That remains to be seen, said Ehrlich. It could be the electrical engineer; it could be the fire-protection engineer or it could even be the HVAC engineer. More so, it could be the other consultant in this technology mix: the IT guy. The bigger picture, he said, is that the consulting title—or just the whole structured cabling picture itself—really is a chance for enterprising engineers to better familiarize themselves and improve the relationship with the client. "But I'll tell you one thing for sure," said Ehrlich. "If you don't step in, someone from the IT world will."

For more on structured cabling visit www.iec.org/online/tutorials/scs . For more on CLA visit www.cladi.org and www.bicsi.org . And for more on 10-GB cabling visit www.systimax.com .





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