Today’s cabling costs

Today’s cabling costs – and tomorrow’s

Duffey, Alfred J

To minimize life cycle costs, facility executives have to spend more than money upfront

It’s no surprise that the demand for telecommunications technology is driving change in facilities. High-speed cabling for Internet access is the number one demand of commercial building tenants, according to a recent survey conducted by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International.

Today’s networks, however, require a cabling infrastructure capable of supporting a variety of telecommunications needs, including voice, data, video imaging and building control. The most efficient networks are high-performance media systems designed to meet both current and future physical needs.

Because technology for cabling infrastructures is approaching 15 to 20 percent of the total building cost, the question is how to intelligently install a cost-effective cabling infrastructure that allows for future physical growth and technology upgrades. These technology investments must be viewed as assets with a useful life. To maximize return, the real choice is first costs vs. life cycle costs.

Critical choices must be made in terms of both systems design and products used in the installation. A structured cabling system is a good option to ensure the most efficient and reliable network. These systems are the mostly hidden infrastructure of wires, jacks and patch panels that form the foundation of a LAN. A structured cabling system improves overall reliability and performance by eliminating potential risks and uncertainties of piece-part solutions. It also provides a greater return on investment, because its life cycle costs can be more easily predicted.

When it comes to selecting products, cost isn’t necessarily reflective of quality. For example, some systems come with 15 to 20 year warranties. The catch is that these product warranties will outlast the technology that makes the product useful.

Instead of a product warranty, some installers offer performance warranties that cover the network’s actual delivery rather than a specific product. A warranty on a cable infrastructure guarantees that a system installed today will be functional several years from now. It also ensures that new applications defined after installation will work on a system in the future.

Some customers may want to jump on the telecom technology bandwagon and use the coolest and newest cable such as Category 6 and Level 7. Though these products present exciting possibilities, they aren’t yet the industry standard and could add cost to any project’s installation or continued maintenance; extra time and money can go into the bid and project as installers work to understand new processes.

Improving the Life Cycle

The telecommunication system should be designed into a building during the initial stages of the project versus the more traditional method of “retrofitting” it into the building while it is being constructed. At the very least, the installers should be on the premises before the ceiling grid is installed to save time.

Moves, additions and changes (MACs) can add up to a considerable long-term expense for the facility. These changes not only push back the deadlines for the installation, but also increase the initial costs of the cabling infrastructure. An effective design strategy can minimize MACs and reduce life cycle costs of the cabling system.

There are many factors that can cause a cabling infrastructure to become obsolete. Most networks stay useful for five to seven years, until changing telecom technology and rising demands for bandwidth force upgrades. If the infrastructure is seen, not merely as a static purchase, but as an investment with a life cycle, there is a longer time over which to amortize costs.

Industry standards committees are in place and evolving to ensure that these guidelines are independent of both the manufacturer and technology, and that certain specific requirements for the proper operation of the cabling system are met. Standards bodies, such as the TIA/EIA (Telecommunications Industry Association and the Electronic Industries Alliance) and BICSI: A Telecommunications Association, are enhancing the telecommunications industry by providing education and professional registration programs.

In the planning stages of a new building, it is crucial to spend time anticipating future needs, which allow for expansion and technology upgrades in a cabling infrastructure. When prudent planning and intelligent design are combined with industry standards, a cable infrastructure has a good chance of staying useful for several years. This technology investment will save money over time and provide building occupants with access to cutting-edge telecommunications solutions.

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Alfred J. Duffey is executive vice president of GSI, a designer of LAN infrastructure and automated security and surveillance systems based in Troy, Mich

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Copyright Trade Press Publishing Company Sep 2001

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