Monday, November 30, 2009

Category 6 and PoE

In reference to an earlier blog post, Why I passed on Category 6, I laid out some of the background for my opinions on Category 6 cabling. In short, it’s a great cable that never really had a home in the data networks.

I wouldn’t be addressing the topic again except the University of Florida (go gators!) is in the process of reviewing their Telecommunication Standards. I’m happy to say that I am a part of that process.

The most recent revision of the UF Telecommunication Standards was published in 2005. Many things have changed since in the past 4 years and the revision committee is in hot debate concerning a number of topics. Of critical interest is the decision concerning what cable is to be placed in new construction projects on the UF campus. The current revision of the UF Telco Standards require a plenum rated UTP cable of at least Category 5e classification.

The new version of the standard will relax the prohibition against using nonplenum cable. I’m happy to discuss the logic behind both decisions but the debate concerning the use of plenum v/s non-plenum cable has been simpler than the old argument.

While the standards currently require a minimum of Category 5e cable, most new buildings have been constructed with Category 6 cable serving as the UTP cable of choice. Beyond any technical discussions, we can easily trace the evolution of this defacto standard.
· Architecture and Engineering firms habitually install the most popular cable in new construction. With none of our new buildings being IT centered, the choice to specify Category 6 must seem simple
· Our own department of Facilities Planning has the responsibility for the construction of new buildings. While they are often looking for ways to spend money they often look to the UF stakeholders to point out ways that designs can be made to best fit UF.
· Our own IT representatives to Facilities Planning focus on issues different than cable selection. OSP issues and documentation take a front seat in any discussion concerning new construction.

So, regardless of our own local standard, all new buildings since 2005 have been installed with Category 6.

This leads us to the current discussion in which our standards committees are debating whether to increase our requirements for new network cabling to Category 6- and yes, it is a debate.

All of the older arguments have been brought out to justify the requirement for Category 6 as the mainstay of network cabling on this campus. They have been joined by a new one: PoE plus is going to require Category 6 in order to function at full capacity.

Most of the time in this industry, our principal form of education comes from our vendors. In order to sell us their products, they want to keep us informed about the latest advances in technology. In IT, this strategy works. There is always a need for the next best thing. In cabling, the world moves a bit slower but this marketing trend seems to hold. A number of cabling installations are sold on their ability to “future-proof” the building and prepare for the next application. The latest argument seems to stem from this kind of thinking.

I’ve heard this argument from a number of sales persons in the last few weeks. They have held seminars on the topic. A number of our UF staff are convinced that by clinging to older cabling standards we may be constraining our ability to serve our constituency.

But, where is the evidence? Various Google searches and requests for whitepapers have come back empty-handed. In fact, a search of online periodicals seems to imply that PoE plus is designed to work over Category 5 with Category 5e being more than capable of supporting the next standard: PoE ++?

In short, more smoke and mirrors. You need Category 6 because it is certified to run gigabit. You need Category 6 to run 1000BaseTX which is the way future electronics will be constructed. You need Category 6 to run PoE plus. All patently false.

I still hold that Category 6 is a great cable. It is a great cable without a purpose. It serves better for analog video but now more and more video is going digital.

There are times I feel trapped in the past. If any reader can tell me why Category 6 is the better cable, please pass on the information. With a good argument, I can be converted.

Until then, I will hold on to my outdated cabling. When Category 6A cabling comes down in price and 10GBaseT cards become standard in desktops I may change my tune.

1 comment:

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